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Brian Nittayo

Episode 102

Learning Pizza: San Francisco to New York to Los Angeles

Brian Nittayo is the founder of Rose City Pizza in Rosemead and most recently, Covina.

Brian graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. While still in school, he worked in a variety of restaurants from a sushi place to Outback Steakhouse and first experienced a love for serving and meeting people.

After graduating, he gained experience as a front desk agent at the Ritz Carlton Hotel where he learned valuable customer service skills. His father was retired and “itching to get back into business,” in the early 2000s so they opened their first Cold Stone Creamery location in San Dimas.

For the next 7 years they opened and operated Cold Stone Creamery franchises. During that time, they felt a strong desire to open a restaurant which would allow them the freedom to create a concept and menu. In 2009, they opened Rose City Pizza, only three doors down from one of their original Cold Stone Creamery locations in Rosemead.

On a whim, Brian’s Dad and he decided to go to the Pizza Expo held once a year in Las Vegas. While there, they heard about Tony Gemignani and his pizza classes. Brian became one of his first students and graduated from the program in North Beach, San Francisco- a satellite of the main campus located in Italy. Though he was now certified, Brian felt that he was not ready to start his pizzeria until he apprenticed with Tony’s friend Bruno, who owned multiple pizzerias in New York. Over the summer Brian learned to make true authentic New York style pizzas.

While Rose City is a well known and loved establishment now, this was not always the case. The first few years of business were slow, and when customers did come in they would tell him that he should have opened in Los Angeles to charge more or get more attention from foodies.

Brian knew that people generally gravitated towards traditional pizzerias with their wood fired ovens and heirloom recipes. Brian had to think out of the box and create something new. And he did exactly that. Rose City produces pizzas unlike any other with flavors like Elote, Al Pastor, Birria, Char Siu, and Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken Pizza. Brian draws his inspiration from the diverse group of cooks and staff he works with.

Most of the time new pizza creations are created by them talking about what they are craving. They have had great success with their fusion pizzas. Rose City Pizza is more of a modern pizza concept with roots in traditional Italian and New York style pizza preparation.

Despite what people said about opening in the SGV, Brian could not be happier to be in the area, because according to Brian, “The SGV is a destination for authentic Asian, Mexican, and innovative food creations. The community means everything to me.” Operating Rose City during the pandemic has been the most challenging obstacle Brian has encountered thus far, and he is extremely grateful to all the community members who have kept his business afloat. In addition to receiving love and support from customers, Brian also does his part to give back to the community through hosting fundraisers and donations and hosting monthly art shows to support local artists. Brian has now opened his second location in Covina.

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Brian Nittayo Quotes

  • “I don’t want to be in the pepperoni rat race of who has a better pepperoni pizza. I want to create something totally different.”
  • “This one lady, we made her a pizza and she she told us she’s like, this is the one best thing that ever happened to me today. I just found out my mom has a terminal disease. And it was just everything was just not a good day today. But this is the one best thing that happened, and to me, it made it all worth it.”
  • “The pizza is actually like a taco with the cheese toppings and all those things, and people were mind blown, like, oh, my God, I’ve never had al pastor pizza.”
  • “[Brian’s father] told me once that if you keep shooting bullets at a target, one of them will hit the bullseye. So that’s how I kind of live my life, where I’m always trying new and different things.”
  • Brian Nittayo is the founder of Rose City Pizza in Rosemead and Covina, California
  • He grew up in Arcadia in the San Gabriel Valley
  • Brian essentially worked in New York for free for 3 months to establish his pizza making skills
  • Brian Nittayo attended a Pizza Expo with his father in Las Vegas which led to a major breakthrough in Brian’s life and career

What is Brian Nittayo’s connection to the San Gabriel Valley?

Brian grew up in Arcadia and has lived his entire life in the SGV. And now he is doing business in San Gabriel Valley.

Brian’s restaurant, Rose City Pizza, is in the Target Shopping Center in Rosemead. He has been at this location since 2009.

How has Brian found success in an industry (restaurant) that has such a high failure rate?

Brian acknowledges that it has been a difficult journey. They opened in the middle of the recession in 2009 and he admitted there were days that they would only make $25 or $50.

Brian loves Mexican food and hung around taco trucks, and he didn’t want to be caught up in the idea of, which pizza shop has the best pepperoni pizza.

Instead, Brain ended up created an el pastor pizza, so essentially it was like a taco pizza.

What was growing up in Arcadia like?

Brian spent a lot of time trying to find himself. He loves art, which is a big reason why he has so many tattoos.

Art also led Brian to the Huntington Library, which is one of his all time favorite places.

How did Brian learn to make pizzas?

Brian attended a pizza expo in Las Vegas on a whim with his father. He owned a pizzeria but didn’t know how to make a great pizza, so he felt a little desperate.

While they were there, Brian and his father met Tony Gemini, a renowned pizza maker, who started a school to teach pizza making. Brian considers him the Michael Jordan of pizza makers.

Brian became one of his first students and was sent to San Francisco and then New York to learn how to make pizzas.

He was there for 3 to 4 months, unpaid, and learned how to make pizzas.

It’s a never ending process, Brian is still learning. That includes different cheese samples, artisan bread types, and more.

He never wants to become complacent.

How does Rose City Pizza’s demographic impact the pizza options?

The new demographic is primarily Caucasian and interested in traditional pizzas like pepperoni, Hawaiian, and meat lovers.

Brian’s specialty is fusion pizzas, so they are taking advanced bread making classes to improve their core ingredients and make the best pepperoni.

What is Brian’s mission for Rose City Pizza?

Brian’s mission is to deliver something that will help them stand out and have longevity in the pizza industry, focusing on delivering something unique and memorable.

How did Brian overcome challenges in opening a second location of his pizza business?

Brian had to hire a lot of young and inexperienced people for their first jobs, which made it tough to train them from scratch. He also made changes to their equipment and processes to improve the quality of the pizza and give customers a better experience.

What experiences or impact has Brian’s pizza had on customers?

Sometimes he feels like he doesn’t make a difference in the world, but Brian had a customer come up to him and tell him that she just found out that her mother had a terminal disease and the pizza he prepared for her was the best thing about her day.

To Brian, this was incredibly powerful and made him understand the impact his food could have on people.

What is on the horizon for Brian?

Brian wants to get everything down pact with more systems in place, especially for the Covina location. Brian has two children now and since his parents weren’t around a lot, he wants to be more involved in his kids’ lives.

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Brian Nittayo

Brian’s old neighborhood in Arcadia – the “college streets.”

The Race Track