For almost two decades, San Francisco Bay Area chef Laura Meyer has aimed to perfect her pizza-making skills and has garnered top awards as a pizzaiola along the way. After spending eight years working at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, and then as an instructor for Tony’s International School of Pizza for another nine years, she's ready to run her own restaurant.
"COVID put a lot of things into perspective and gave me the time to seriously sit down and think about what I wanted for myself moving forward," said Meyer. "[Opening my own restaurant is] the one thing I would regret not doing, so I decided it was the right time for change since the whole world was changing around me."
Pizzeria da Laura, opening in Berkeley, Calif., on March 16, will feature New York-style pies as well as three types of pan pizzas: Detroit, Sicilian, and Grandma. Each pizza has its own characteristics, even if the pan versions tend to look the same. One way Meyer differentiates them is by finding different ways to ferment the pizza dough, a skill that she said continues to be a work-in-progress.
"The basic principles of fermentation are pretty straightforward, but one small change can have a large impacts on the final product," said the chef. "My pizzas and dough recipes will also always evolve just as I, as a person, evolve."
Photo credit: Tim Marsolais
At the moment, Meyer’s favorite approach is pan pizza, and she has won many awards in that field.
Her road to trophy success started in 2013 when her boss, legendary pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony's Pizza as well as a pizza making champion and president of the World Pizza Champions, brought it up. The team was heading to Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, and, being a competitive person, Meyer decided she wanted to give the competition a try.
Although her first attempt was an utter failure, she went to Parma, Italy, a month later for another contest and won first place for pan pizza. She was the first woman to do so.
Meyer didn’t realize at the time what a big deal that was. She simply walked onto the stage to accept the award and, instead of the usual applause, the room was mostly silent.
"I was an unknown and a young American female at that, and I had no clue of the magnitude," she said. "But now that I’ve been going for the last 10 years I only now understand how amazing it is and I’ll forever cherish those memories and, if my winning can help push women to the forefront or help anyone on their road to success, I’m even happier."
Not only did the win in Parma break barriers, but it also helped launch her into a second career as competitor.
"After those two experiences, I was hooked and now I compete every chance I get," she said.
"It’s fun for me and forces me out of my box."
A few years later, in 2019, Meyer made headlines again for taking home first place at one of Italy’s oldest pizza competitions, Caputo Cup in Naples. She won for Best American-Style Pizza, a newly-created category, making her the first-ever winner.
With plenty of success already under her belt, Meyer said she still has a lot of room for growth, and hopes to put that on display at Pizzeria da Laura.
"It is such a great vehicle for flavor and can be so easily changed that it hasn’t gotten boring yet," Meyer said of pizza. "Chefs are always working on plating and deconstructing and how to present dishes in creative ways, and I do the same thing, but in pizza form."
Pizzeria da Laura will open in an Art Deco building in the heart of downtown Berkeley, and distinctive design elements include a mezzanine and two murals painted by local artist Carlos Sumang.
Whole pizza prices will range from $20 to $37, and pasta plates will cost between $15 and $25. Highlights of the coming menu include Meyer’s dad's ragù sauce over spaghetti ($25), and the Ray J pie ($37), which features both thinly-sliced and thickly-sliced pepperoni, stracciatella, fermented honey, basil, shaved Parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. All pizzas can be put on which ever crust the diner wishes, making the small menu even bigger with options.
Now, all Meyer has to do is win the appetites of Berkley diners, and her pizza journey will come full circle.