When Pizza Venti opened its doors for the first time in 2020, owner Alex Popescu had one goal which was to create a welcoming restaurant that treated its customers like family.
“We treat our customers as friends and guests in our home,” he told the Gazette. “The idea from the very beginning was to move away from the transactional idea of eating out and actually making our guests feel like they are in their own home, but with us cooking, saving them from the hassle.”
It was his way of ‘giving back’ the country and community that had made his own family welcome nine years earlier. Alex explains that Pizza Venti will never be just a business, but a big family that embraces the community’s needs and to be there for everyone.”
For many, this would be just talk. But for Alex and Pizza Venti, working within and supporting the local community goes far beyond words.
This is Alex’s first venture into the restaurant and takeaway business as an owner. However, he spent a number of years working for Pizza chains, learning all about the trade and gaining an understanding of what he would not do should he ever get the opportunity to run his own place.
Pizza Venti is that place and while he hopes one day to expand to other localities, he is concentrating on making Pizza Venti the go-to pizza place in the Salisbury area. And it is working. Rated best place to eat in Salisbury and number 1 on TripAdvisor for more than a year, Pizza Venti is gathering quite a reputation.
What’s the secret of a good pizza?
Freshness. Fresh dough and local ingredients to be exact.
“Our dough recipe is a 100-year-old secret. It is created by us every day, but originally comes from Italy, from an old pizzaiolo master,” explains Alex. “The secret of any good dough is freshness. It is hard work and a lot of attention is given to the growing process. We grow our dough depending on the season, from 24 to 72 hours in cold weather. You don’t hurry if you want a great thing.”
Vegetables are bought locally with Alex making good use of the Saturday market in Salisbury. There is a zero tolerance rule to frozen food in the kitchen. What isn’t bought locally is sourced directly from Italy, because, “on the pizza side of business, they are the best.”
The pizza ovens use kiln dried wood, which “gives an amazing taste to our pizza”. It takes about one hour each morning to reach a temperature of 500 degrees, which cooks a pizza in two and a half minutes, and a calzone in four and half minutes. Timing is crucial, 20 seconds too long and you risk a burnt pizza.
When it comes to popularity, the residents of Salisbury are fairly diverse in their tastes. With more than 35 types of pizza on offer, as well as the Create Your Dream Pizza option, there is something for everyone.
But if one pizza stands above all others it would be the Salisbury Foodie Signature, which was created by the company’s local chef, James Butterfield. The Foodie Signature features a plain base with pepperoni, gorgonzola, walnuts, rocket and mozzarella cheese. Which sounds amazing and probably tastes better.
But what is Alex’s personal favourite? “I’m a meat lover, but my favourite is our Buffalo Special, which is vegetarian, but with added prosciutto crudo on top.”
It would be impossible to talk about pizza without mentioning the P word. We all have a stance on whether pineapple is acceptable on a pizza, but as you might imagine, Alex is definitely in the ‘yes, delicious’ faction.
“It is actually something I love very much,” explains Alex. “The juice from real pineapple in combination with the dough, trust me, nobody regrets it. At the same time, I hear and respect everyone’s desire.”
What do customers request?
“I have to admit that I do make some crazy combinations but many of our guests have given me the opportunity to try new combinations. The one that stands out was pineapple with fresh chilli. The guest loved it.”
When customers wanted an alternative to garlic bread, the suggestion was usually chips.
Taking a logical step forward, Alex introduced roast potatoes. “I listened to feedback and we brought roasted potatoes for two reasons: they are healthy and because we can offer quality, we don’t use oils or anything else beside the real wood fired oven to cook in our kitchen. The roasted potatoes with red onion and smoked bacon are lush.”
Sweet pizzas are also on offer. With Nutella pizzas one of Alex’s best sellers. While some customers may be unfamiliar with the concept, Alex has many more ideas on the horizon, including what he will only reveal as a ‘cocktail pizza’. Watch this space.
Inspired by the community
Working to help the local community is a vital part of the Pizza Venti ethos. “I’ve always helped as much as I could in life,” explained Alex. “It brings me greater satisfaction than anything else in life. Pizza Venti has been just a tool to reach further and help more.”
Alex has collaborated regularly with local food banks to help with the cost of living crisis, but had to stop at the end of last year because of the threat of Pizza Venti becoming the latest casualty of the current economic crisis.
“When it comes to charity organisations, I’ve witnessed what Salisbury has and we collaborate with local charities because they are the ones that make a difference and they deserve all the support they can.”
Plans are already in place to support various organisations during the spring and summer, including weekly pizza drops to Alabare for those sleeping rough.
“We are big supporters of Salisbury Hospice due to their commitment to what may be the hardest moments in our life. We sponsor Salisbury Suns basketball team, Laverstock and Football club, the kids team and collaborate with Salisbury Rugby on any occasion we can to support them.”
What drives Alex and Pizza Venti is not a desire for monetary wealth, but the wealth of human kindness. All of which stems from the idea that the restaurant is a home and customers are guests.
“My father always said, where two people eat, there is always room for a third one. We do not look to get rich, we look to make a difference and a positive one.
“I feel blessed to be part of a community that gave me the inspiration to do this. I need to thank Janey Ebel, a trustee of quite a few charities, who inspired us through her work in the local and international community.
“We aren’t rich, never have been and as someone told me, with all the projects we run, we will never get rich. But I get something money couldn’t bring, a pure happiness to know my work matters.”