Pizzeria Da Laura
2049 Shattuck Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley
Grand opening: Thursday March 23
Wednesday-Sunday 5-9 p.m.
“Pizza was my first job,” said Laura Meyer, an award-winning pizzaiola who honed her skills under the tutelage of her parents, two trained former chefs, and Tony Gemignani, with whom she worked for nearly 20 years at his North Beach outpost — and beyond. “It’s always been a part of my life.” And now that obsession has come to its logical conclusion, as on March 23, the Berkeley resident will open her first-ever restaurant, Pizzeria Da Laura, on Shattuck Avenue.
Born and raised in the East Bay, Meyer’s first job, like many an American teen, was at a nearby pizza joint. In her case, it was the now-shuttered Pyzano’s in Castro Valley, which just happened to have been owned by Gemignani. This fortuitous pairing in 2006 kickstarted their decades-long working relationship. Even while attending college across the bridge at San Francisco State University, Meyer kept her job at Pyzano’s, learning firsthand about pizza making, customer service and running a small business under the holy trinity of dough, sauce and cheese.
Upon graduation, she stayed on with Gemignani, who invited her to join him for his next enterprise, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. For years she worked as kitchen manager and head chef inside the bustling North Beach mainstay, which would go on to evolve into a mini-empire, including Capo’s (noted for its deep dish pies), a cooking school and cookbooks.
Despite the long hours and even longer lines, Meyer felt at home. After all, a soul-shattering nine-to-five gig simply wasn’t her. She could never imagine a future of cubicle dwelling or office machinations.
“Growing up, even to this day, my parents always told me I never knew how to sit still,” Meyer admitted. “I also like working with my hands, as well as the social aspect of working in a kitchen alongside people. It’s loud, it’s fun and it’s stressful — all of the things that I was craving.”
Her prowess running a kitchen while tossing the perfect pie wouldn’t go unnoticed. In a matter of years, Meyer would go on to win two world titles for pizza making. The first world title, which she nabbed in Parma, Italy in 2013, made her both the first woman and first American to snatch the competition’s top prize.
Her second award, which wouldn’t be her last, was yet another world title, this time in Las Vegas, for best nontraditional pizza. “The only regulation was that the pizza had to be round,” she said of her award-winning Mediterranean concoction, “otherwise, anything goes.” Her nonconformity featured a rosemary-infused dough topped with braised lamb, arugula and tzatziki, with pomegranate, lemon and chili flakes.
Years into her tenure at Tony’s, where she also started teaching pizza making, Meyer ran into the same moment all we all did: a period of assessment prompted by the pandemic.
“It made me stop and analyze my life – what was it I wanted to do with my life now?” She wanted to go solo, she realized. “You know, I’ve gotten to do all of these great things without the added stress of ownership, but my friends were gently pushing my hand toward entrepreneurship, so I started with focaccia.”
In 2021, Meyer’s focaccia pop-up, Focaccia Da Laura, started appearing around the Bay Area. This prodded her to dream even bigger, and the idea for Pizza Da Laura was born.
Located at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Addison Street, one block from UC Berkeley, Meyer’s new space will only be open in the evenings at first, with a hope to eventually open during the day, as well. Initially, service will be restricted to in-person dining and whole pies to go, but when hours are expanded to the daytime, expect single slice offerings as well. (Note to the region’s lunchtime pizza joints: If you’re not serving single slices at your slice house, are you even a pizzeria? Take that preening tomfoolery to San Francisco.)
Guests can expect to find her award-winning Parma pizza a menu fixture, and her nontraditional, Mediterranean-inspired pie will make the occasional guest appearance. (Most of the dishes are named after her friends and family, don’t miss the “Ray J,” a double pepperoni with stracciatella, fermented honey, basil and parmigiano.)
All pies can be customized in four styles: New York (the common version of pizza), Sicilian (so thick), Grandma (very thin and rectangular, my personal favorite format) and Detroit (rectangular pan pizza with a thick chewy crust adorned a crispy cheese exterior).
Pizza Da Laura will also offer pasta dishes, like “Spaghetti with Dad’s Ragu” ($25), pulled directly from her family dinners at the Meyer’s Hayward home, as well as cocktails made with Italian aperitifs. Pizza prices range from $20 to $37, with pasta costing $15 to $25. You can view the full opening menu below.
Inside Meyer’s new space, expect interiors that mimic the building’s Art Deco facade but with a lighter, more modern twist, as well as a mural designed by artists garlic_breadlocks and mrdonetdk.
Pizzaria Da Laura joins a bevy of other high-profile Berkeley pizzaiolos that have opened their doors in recent years, including Rose Pizzeria and State Flour Pizza Company. But Meyer is one of the few female chef-restaurateurs in the area. In a male-dominated field like so many fields are – this is yet another reason to celebrate.
“There’s not very many women in this industry, who are owners and operators,” Meyer said. “I see this as an opportunity to not just help myself, but help other females in this industry around me.”