Spacca Napoli in Beuel How a pizzeria is successful even without seating
Bonn · In the middle of the lockdown, Raffaele Mastellone and Gabriele Vacentino opened "Spacca Napoli" at Konrad-Adenauer-Platz. After initial start-up difficulties, the pizzeria has become an institution for many residents of Beuel - even though it only sells take-out. Why?
"See Naples and die," Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once reported during his trip to Italy. Where exactly the origin of the much quoted saying lies, is not quite clear. But literary experts assume that it refers to the beauty of Naples, which everyone must see once in their life.
Raffaele Mastellone, now 28, knows the beauty of Naples because he was born there. But he also knows about the problems of the southern Italian port city: poverty, unemployment - and the Mafia has its finger in almost every pie.
So at the age of 21, he bought a plane ticket to Germany in a fly-by-night action. "I was hoping to find a good job here," he says today, sitting in his first own pizzeria, Spacca Napoli on Konrad-Adenauer-Platz. The road there, however, was rocky for the young Italian.
"I came to Bonn to work here as a courier. But the ad I saw in Italy turned out to be a fake," he recalls. Desperate, he says, he roamed Bonn with his backpack at the time, a good seven years ago - looking for work. "I didn't know anyone here, not even the language." And before his trip to Bonn, he had never left Italy.
Slowed down by the pandemic
In an Italian wholesale store in Dransdorf, he came across his future business partner, Gabriele Vacentino, by chance. He had already been living in Bonn for several years and was well connected. "I always dreamed of opening my own pizzeria. Gabriele had the know-how, because he was already running a place in Poppelsdorf at the time."
It took another good five years before the two were able to put their business idea into practice. During that time, Mastellone tried out all kinds of side jobs, networked with other pizza makers and built up a circle of friends.
In February 2020, the time had come: Mastellone and Vacentino were able to sign the lease for a small space at Konrad-Adenauer-Platz. "The business idea was there, the financing was secured, and then Corona came along," says Mastellone. As a result, the March 2020 opening was smaller than planned. "Actually, we wanted to offer antipasti and sweets in addition to pizza. We were expecting to have 35 seats inside."
Because of the lockdown, the two business partners had to spontaneously change their thinking. They kept the seating area closed and instead expanded their sidewalk sales. "We were faced with a choice: either we close again, or we adapt. We didn't get support from the state as a newly opened business." But they were the only pizza take-out place in the neighborhood so that served them well. Business has been good, though different than expected.
In the beginning, Mastellone and Vacentino did everything themselves: preparing the dough, baking, selling, cleaning, shopping, billing and marketing. "We worked over 15 hours a day." Only later were they able to afford three employees.
For this fall, they planned to open the sit-down area again, but it turned out different once again: "Because of the rising electricity prices - over 50 percent - and the current high costs for flour, cheese and other ingredients, we decided to rely once again on take-out only this fall/winter. Otherwise, we would have to raise pizza prices," Mastellone said. He aims for the coming spring.
But what makes a real Neapolitan pizza? "Our dough traditionally consists of 60 percent water, flour and just a tiny bit of yeast. The whole thing has to rise for over 24 hours," reveals the pizza specialist. Then, he says, the pizza dough with toppings is baked for 60 seconds in an oven preheated to 485 degrees. "It's a special Neapolitan oven. It doesn't dry out the pizza, but keeps it soft."
He says the most popular varieties among Beuel residents are Bufalina with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella and Napoletana with oregano, anchovies, capers and garlic. For all ingredients, Mastellone relies on original Italian products. "We don't have Gouda.”
"If it’s Napoli, then do it right"
However, there is one thing that is still difficult for the southern Italian to cope with today: "Almost every day there is a customer who asks for a pizza with chicken or Hawaii pizza. You can't do that!?" he muses, shaking his head. Neither chicken nor pineapple belong on a real Neapolitan pizza. Being a businessman through and through, he nevertheless thought about expanding his offering, but then decided against it. "If it's Napoli, then do it right.”
Most of his customers seem to forgive him. At almost any time of day, a sometimes larger, sometimes smaller crowd can be found in front of the pizzeria at Konrad-Adenauer-Platz. They are all waiting for their pizza so they can enjoy a little piece of Napoli on the Rhine.
Orig. text: Julia Rosner