Pizza Rock’s owner Tony Gemignani played his part in the revitalization of K Street and now looks to bring his recipe for success to Sin City

When Pizza Rock opened in 2011, its owners joined area entrepreneurs in helping transform K Street from a dim portion of downtown to a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in the midst of revitalization.

The city has a ways to go, but Pizza Rock owner Tony Gemignani says he and co-owners George Karpaty and Trevor Hewitt have had success, choosing K Street because of its great potential and the steady business of the co-owners’ clubs—Dive Bar and District 30—in the area.

“It was a concept we had talked about for many years,” Gemignani says of Pizza Rock’s nightclub vibe—from the rock music rendition of Michelangelo’s Adam painted on the ceiling to the savvy music system allowing for sound to be simultaneously transmitted between Pizza Rock, Dive Bar and District 30.

Gemignani credits the restaurant’s success to his hardworking management and staff, top quality ingredients, diverse menu and unique atmosphere.

“We are always updating and changing so it’s a diverse menu,” he says. “We keep our core pizzas and [appetizers] and everything but we tend to change parts of the menu to suit the customers. Sacramento likes substance, Sacramento likes value and when you look at our bigger pizzas, the Sicilian and the Romana, you get more for your money, so those have really taken off.”

Ironically, one of the biggest sellers is also Gemignani’s burger, ordered anywhere from 80 to 100 times each day, he says. It’s something he’s looking to branch out with down the road.

In the meantime, Gemignani and partners have decided to open a second Pizza Rock in the ideal place for the concept—Las Vegas.

“For the new Pizza Rock in Vegas, we got together to plan everything, and that’s part of us,” Gemignani says about the team’s enthusiasm to design the entire place from the bottom up. “[In Sacramento] we were a big part of every decision, from the carpet, menu, vibe, all the way down to the people we interview. It’s an experience, a package and that’s what we look at, from how the restaurant should look to how the servers should act. They’re a little edgy, but that’s what’s cool.”

When it comes down to it, however, Pizza Rock has repeat customers not just because of the vibe, but because of the food, which is made with fresh local ingredients as well as specially imported items from Italy.

An award-winning pizza maker and instructor who owns three restaurants in San Francisco and has four other projects in the works, Gemignani had 20 years of experience to bring to the Sacramento table when restaurant talks first began.

In 2007, Gemignani took first place at the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, in the Neapolitan category with his Pizza Margherita, becoming the first American in history to win the honor. Today, Pizza Rock and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco recreate that award-winning pizza using the exact ingredients and oven.

He won first place at the 2011 World Championship of Pizza Makers, has won several Food Network challenges and landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for spinning the largest pizza dough base (33.2 inches) in two minutes. Gemignani also owns and operates the International School of Pizza in San Francisco, teaching several styles, certifying professionals and instructing non-professionals for home cooking.

At his restaurants, you will not only find his classic Italian pies and dishes, but also authentic Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Detroit and other styles of pizza.

“When I won a bunch of awards, I traveled worldwide and nationwide, and during those stops, I ended up working with a lot of great independent operators who had different ingredients and different customers,” Gemignani says. “When you looked at those styles [in other places], people had not been doing them correctly or not at all. I wanted a restaurant with multiple ovens, multiple flours, multiple tomatoes to make each one authentic. I’ve been lucky enough to work with great people and go back to my restaurants and bring those styles.”

Asked which style is his favorite, Gemignani laughs and says he likes them all, if they’re done right.

“It’s like saying which pasta you like best, like you like spaghetti but hate linguini, but you can’t say you like one and hate the other because it’s still pasta,” he says. “If the pizza is light, not too weighed down, the dough is matured properly and you use fresh ingredients, I like it. But you can really screw that up.”

Freshness, Gemignani learned at a young age, is key. Growing up on a farm in Castro Valley, Calif., Gemignani watched his mom cook every day with the ingredients they grew. Coincidentally, he also gets his design interests from his mom, whom he watched decorate an inviting home for his family for years.

At 18, Gemignani started working at his brother Frank’s Pyzano’s Pizzeria in Castro Valley (which closed its doors just last year after 21 years). He later attended Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli to become a certified pizza master and has worked nonstop since.

For those who can’t visit his restaurants or attend his school, Gemignani has written two cookbooks and is working on a third, which is, of course, pizza-related.

But for the man who eats, breathes and dreams pizza, he still has a lot of new ideas up his sleeves, and will continue to roll them out at Pizza Rock in the near future. 

    Nur Kausar

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    Born in Pakistan. Raised in Las Vegas. Settled in Sacramento. Muslim American Feminist. Housing California staffer. Submerge Mag freelancer.