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Tom Pizzica

Chef/Owner | Philly Hots

Briefly describe your job and responsibilities.

I run the day-to-day operations of my catering business and food truck operation. This includes menu development and execution, hiring, firing, training of staff, purchasing, event scheduling, client management, billing, truck maintenance and upkeep, cooking, prepping, delivering, and making sure we all have a great time doing it.

What does a “typical” day at work look like for you?

That really all depends on the day. As we all know there is nothing “typical” about the path that chose me. Trust me, I didn’t choose this path. This is the type of passion that chooses you. But, I digress, “typically” I’m up around 6:30 to get my family out the door. If I have a food truck event that day or evening I’ll go into work and check the prep to see what we want to run for the day. If we have an excess of something that didn’t move the way we wanted, I’ll change it around and add or subtract to make it more appealing.

Hopefully, I’ve done a proper job of purchasing and don’t have to run out for anything. My staff arrives and we get together and brainstorm about quantities we need for the day and what events are on the horizon we can use what for. I’ll check the truck to make sure we have generator gas, propane, if anything is falling off from underneath (its an old truck), and if it needs a little more cleaning. We prep, we load up, we drive to the event, BS with the guests while getting our butts kicked making them great food, we BS with each other, we get done, have a beer, drive the truck back, clean up. I take stock of what we’ll need
tomorrow and go home.

What was your first job in the hospitality industry?

I started as a dishwasher at Anthony’s Pizza in Malvern, Pa. when I was 16.

When did you know this industry was right for you?

When I was in college I couldn’t find a major I was really into. I always loved cooking and my mother always encouraged me to go to a college that specialized in hospitality. I balked at this because I didn’t think cooking was a “real” career and I was going to go to a “real” college to find a “real” career. Well, my junior year rolls around and my GPA is floating just above academic suspension. I declared my major in speech pathology…I know, right?!

I’m in class one day and see a huge ad in the school newspaper for a line cook job at Outback Steakhouse. I went in the next day and got the job at the salad and dessert station. I loved it. This is the late 90’s when Outback was F’in good. Everything was made from scratch onsite. The clanging of the plates, the din of the hoods and the orders and the times being frantically called in both English and Spanish was so dizzying and electric. The people working with me were unlike anyone I’d been around during my privileged upbringing of private schools and universities. The collage of ethnicity and personality was intoxicating. I was hooked immediately. I quickly moved up from salads to grill, cooking 400 steaks a night having to nail all the temps. The skills I learned at that job still, to this day, have
lasting impacts on my daily life.

Briefly describe your career path and how you got to where you are today.

I graduated college with a degree in speech pathology and worked at Outback for the summer after my senior year. I moved back to PA and got a job at a small French restaurant as a cook. I left there and wanted to explore other aspects of the industry. I found a job as a floor manager at the Sansom Street Oyster House in Philly and realized I hated it—I wanted to be in “the trenches”, not be a glorified host. I got fired from that job (that’s a great story for another time) and went back to Outback as a server.

I wanted to leave PA by this point, so I moved to San Francisco at 25 years old. I wasted a lot of money on culinary school out there but worked in some of the best restaurants in the world under some of the more famous chefs of then and worked alongside some of the more famous chefs of now.

I left SF when I got an opportunity to run my own kitchen in a small historical hotel in a place called Chestertown, MD. A very small town on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I was there for 3 years and realized small-town life wasn’t for me. I returned to SF unsure of where I wanted to go with my career.

I went to an open audition for “The Next Food Network Star” season 10 and made it! I was gonna be on TV! Well, turns out I was really good at it. I never got kicked off but lost to Aarti Sequira in the finals. They gave me a show anyway called “Outrageous Food”. I got a few seasons out of it but never really played ball with the right people and a little bit of hubris ended my TV career.

Devastated, I picked myself up by my bootstraps (it’s something you have to do in this career) and started a burger concept doing 100% ground pork belly burgers. It was called “Big Chef Tom’s Belly Burgers”. I went from pop-ups in local bars to festivals to a ton of corporate catering to eventually making the biggest mistake of my life and opening up a store! I made it 3 years in the store and was burned out. San Francisco is relentless. I broke my lease, took my then-young family out of SF and back to West Chester and started over.

Again, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, started the Philly Hots sandwich concept and 5 years later I’m making a living, being my own boss, and making people happy with my food. I’m 46 years old and only beginning to see what I can really do. It can take a long time to make you see what you can be. Don’t rush.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Making people happy with my food.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Making people happy in general.

What advice would you give to students interested in your profession?

Failure is only a bad word if you never learn from it. This goes for recipe execution and development as well as business ventures.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Providing a good life for my family on my own terms via my passion for food and people.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a black belt in taekwondo and play guitar and sing. I love all things Philly sports-related.

What is your favorite food to make or eat?

Sandwiches and spicy Thai food.

What’s at the top of your bucket list?

I have no idea. Haven’t had time to think about it.