Avanti’s new wood-fired oven adds to Medina as ‘foodie destination’

Photos by Tom Rivers: Dan Passalacqua, co-owner of Avanti, cooks a pizza last week in a new wood-fired oven at the Medina location. Dan and his brother Maurizio also own an Avanti in Albion.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 March 2019 at 1:45 pm

MEDINA – A business that was among the first to make a significant investment in Medina’s recent Main Street renaissance has made another improvement to its business.

Maurizio and Dan Passalacqua, brothers and co-owners of Avanti, about a month ago debuted a new wood-fired oven for cooking pizza, chicken wings, pasta and other food. The brothers say it’s a more authentic way of cooking the food, and gives it a distinctive taste.

Angelo Passalacqua holds a finished pizza out of the wood-fired oven. Angelo has been in the pizza business for more than 50 years. He accidently drove through Medina about two decades ago and told his sons the downtown had lots of potential.

“People are becoming more sophisticated,” Dan Passalacqua said last week at Avanti. “They don’t want the ordinary.”

Maurizio built the wood-fired oven and the brothers have been experimenting with it since last August. After several months of trial and error, they felt like they had perfected the process, learning the best temperatures for cooking the pizza, wings, appetizers and pasta.

“Nothing happens by chance,” Dan Passalacqua said. “It’s trying, trying and trying until you find the right thing.”

In a conventional gas-powered oven, the heat is about 500 to 550 degrees. With the wood-fired oven, the temperatures hit about 750 to 900 degrees. The 12-inch pizzas only take about 1 ½ to 2 minutes to cook.

Dan demonstrated last week. The pizza required constant vigilance in its short time in the oven, with Passalacqua checking temperatures and turning the pizza to get even color on the edges. He wanted a slight charred look.

“The feedback has been incredible,” he said about the pizzas. “It’s the new craze out there.”

Passalacqua said the pizzas in the wood-fired ovens are all made with about five ingredients. The pizza he is shown cooking was made with dough, tomatoes, mozzarella cut that day, and basil leaves. The flour for the dough comes from Naples, Italy, and the salt is from Trapani in Sicily.

The brothers grew up in Italy. Their father, Angelo, split time in Sicily and Niagara Falls, running six pizzerias in both locations. Angelo’s owned Leon’s Pizza at a mall in Niagara Falls for decades.

Dan and Maurizio both earned college degrees locally and they pursued careers as stock brokers. They spent their youth working for their father in the pizzerias.

A pizza cooks inside the wood-fired oven at Avanti.

They pursued white-collar careers, but they didn’t like the unpredictability of life as a stock broker. And they missed making Italian food.

Angelo was driving through Medina about 20 years ago. He was lost and didn’t intend to drive down Main Street. At the time the downtown was struggling with empty storefronts. Angelo liked the look of the historic Main Street and he urged his sons to come take a look.

“He fell in love with the town,” Dan said. “He saw the potential.”

Maurizio decided to open Avanti, an Italian expression that means “welcome.” He sold gourmet pizza, subs and breads from a storefront with about 2,400 square feet. Avanti opened in 2001 with about 15 employees.

The business was an immediate success. Dan decided to join his brother after six months.

“We decided right away to stick with higher quality,” Dan said. “We’ve stuck by our guns.”

It didn’t take long and the brothers wanted more space for the business and to expand the dining area. They purchased the former Mark & Dale’s clothing store at the corner of Main and West Center streets. It was a major renovation that took three years. It opened in 2006, nearly quadrupling their space.

That ambitious project inspired others to take a chance on downtown Medina, said Cindy Robinson, the Medina Business Association president.

“They’ve had a big role in the rebirth of downtown Medina,” Robinson said. “They were one of the first big investors in downtown. They purchased a building and didn’t just lease. They showed it’s worth the money to buy a building and fix it up.”

The brothers and their father opened Avanti in Albion in December 2012, renovating a former Pizza Hut on Route 31.

They now have about 50 employees working at the two sites.

Dan Passalacqua and his father Angelo make a pizza at the new oven at Avanti in Medina. The oven is fed oak wood, and gets up to 900 degrees.

Angelo Passalacqua, 78, has been in the pizza business since 1966. He continues to work full-time, making the dough and sauce for Avanti, and getting the cold cuts ready. He said consistent quality is the key to success.

Robinson praised the Passalacquas for pushing for excellence in the building projects, and with their menu. The latest project with the wood-fired oven will draw people to Medina, which she said is gaining a reputation in the region for its many restaurants.

“The foodies are coming to Medina as a destination,” she said. “There is definitely a foodie paradise in Medina, and they (Avanti) were the start of that.”

Dan Passalacqua said the family is pleased to see how the entire downtown has been transformed in the past 15 years or so. The businesses work well together, and they promote the area as a destination, which benefits all of the merchants, he said.

“All of these businesses on Main Street have shown that we can compete with the best of them,” Dan Passalacqua said.

For more on Avanti, click here.

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