‘l’ll teach you how to make a pizza in five minutes, but it’s going to take your lifetime to truly master it.’
Gaetano Giordano, Farmingville
“My name is Gaetano Giordano, but you can call me Tano. I come from a proud lineage of Italian immigrants, my parents, Cecilia and Francesco. My father came to the United States in 1963, and it was here that he first laid eyes on a captivating sight — a pizzaiolo in action. The neon lights framing the storefront window, with the word ‘Pizza’ glowing in the center, caught his attention. Inside, he saw a person skillfully pressing the dough, making it fly through the air like a saucer.
“My father was captivated. He knew at that moment that he wanted to pursue a career in pizza-making in America. His passion for pizza was infectious, and many members of our family and friends followed suit, learning the craft from my father.
“As I began my own journey in pizza-making, my father imparted a powerful lesson: ‘I’ll teach you how to make a pizza in five minutes, but it’s going to take your lifetime to truly master it.’ Growing up, I was surrounded by the pizza business. It was ingrained in our family’s DNA. However, school was a challenge for me. It wasn’t until later that I discovered I had dyslexia, which made it harder for me to learn. Feeling left behind, I often played hooky at school.
“My father, in an effort to teach me a lesson, told me that if I didn’t go to school, I would have to come to work with him. Surprisingly, I found solace and joy in working alongside him. Against my parents’ wishes, I eventually dropped out of high school.
“Together with my father, we opened a pizzeria in our hometown of Farmingville. We named it Baby John’s Pizzeria, in honor of my late brother. At just 18 years old, I found myself immersed in the family business.”
With three years of recuperation and therapy, I am grateful to have my leg and the ability to walk.
“For nearly two decades, we dedicated ourselves to this pizzeria. While it brought us joy to see young children grow into adults and serve our community with delicious meals, it also meant sacrificing our free time. The holidays were the only breaks we took in 20 years.
“As my parents’ health began to decline, I took on the responsibility of running the pizzeria on my own. However, the long hours began to take a toll on me. So we made the difficult decision to sell the business. It was during this time that I deeply regretted never graduating high school.
“Determined to make a change, I enrolled in GED classes and successfully passed the test. While working at Mama’s Pizza in Oakdale, New York, I finally had a couple of consecutive days off each week. It was during this time that I met the love of my life, Linda Maria, who I affectionately call my Queen Bella Mia. Linda saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. She encouraged me to pursue a life beyond being a pizzaiolo.
“With her support, I changed careers and became a chef at the Arbors Assisted Living, where I had a regular 40-hour workweek. Within two years, I was promoted to food service director for one of their locations in Bohemia, New York. However, one fateful day in July 2017, my life took an unexpected turn. I was involved in a car accident that left me with a compound fracture in my right ankle and a significant loss of blood. Survival was uncertain, and there was a strong possibility that I would lose my leg.
“Through the prayers and expertise of the incredible health care professionals at Stony Brook University Hospital, I managed to overcome these challenges. With three years of recuperation and therapy, I am grateful to have my leg and the ability to walk.”
The pizza world I grew up in shaped me into the person I am today, and now I hope to pass on that transformative power to others.
“During my recovery, I stumbled upon a captivating video on YouTube. It showcased the Mastro Pizza Pavilion, a pizzeria that existed at the World’s Fair. To my surprise, my own father appeared in the midst of all the pizza makers, unknowingly leaving a mark on pizza history.
“Little did he know, and I don’t think anyone did, that the man behind this pizzeria was none other than Frank Mastro, the pioneer of gas pizza ovens that are now commonly found in pizzerias across America. This video, an old ’60s infomercial promoting their products, not only provided a fascinating history lesson about pizza but also became a valuable resource in my pizza classes.
“One evening, while enjoying dinner with friends at a party, I overheard a couple discussing the cooking lesson they had taken at their local public library. It sparked an idea in my mind — why not create my own pizza history and demonstration sessions at these libraries? This would allow me to share my love for pizza and keep my passion alive. And so, Pizza by Tano pizza, encompassing history and pizza demonstrations at public libraries, was born. I find immense joy in showcasing the craft I deeply respect and teaching others things I never even knew when I was working in the field myself.
“Furthermore, I aim to shed light on the lives of pizza makers and owners, while also supporting small businesses. Perhaps my classes will inspire some attendees to venture into the world of pizza and culinary arts themselves. During conversations with one of my class attendees, I stumbled upon an incredible revelation: Working with their hands can greatly benefit children with dyslexia, autism and learning disabilities, aiding their ability to concentrate.
“This reminded me of my own upbringing in the pizza world, where working with pizza dough and spinning it in the air helped me cope with my own dyslexia. The pizza world I grew up in shaped me into the person I am today, and now I hope to pass on that transformative power to others.”
Interviewed by Starr Fuentes