Ace of bases: Pizza da Piero bakes with passion

Husband and wife team Gianpiero De Vallier and Cliona Swan have redefined pizza experiences in Ireland. Their journey is a testament to passion, perseverance and the pursuit of perfection.

Who would have thought that an instinct for baking honed as a teenager in Treviso near Venice, Italy, would have resulted in Gianpiero De Vallier and his wife Cliona’s Swan’s business becoming a recognisable success in supermarkets like SuperValu, Dunnes or Tesco.

If you love baking pizza at home for the family, then the chances are that you’ve already bought Pizza da Piero pizza bases can attest to the authenticity of the experience, albeit without flour going everywhere.

“We know that people who genuinely appreciate food get satisfaction from using our products. It is also about the family experience and that’s what Pizza da Piero is all about”

Piero’s Pizza Bases are handcrafted daily by Piero and his team in Rathcoole, Co Dublin. Each large base is made with pre-fermented sourdough starter and left for over 48 hours to rest and be mixed. They contain only 365 calories, allowing you to create your genuine Italian pizza in five minutes at home.

The artisan of the start

Husband and wife holding pizza.

Cliona Swan and her husband Piero De Vallier

The business was founded in 2007 as The Artisan Pizza co– the same year De Vallier and Swan married – and since then it has won many awards.

“We met over 20 years ago in London. Ganpiero – or simply Piero – was working as a baker and I had trained to be a teacher over there,” Swan recalls. “We moved back to Ireland and he continued to work in bakeries here including Griffin’s Galway and Blazing Salads in Dublin, but always with a vision of running his own show and making full use of his talents.

“However, neither of us had an backgrounds in business and we didn’t have any funding.”

Swan says she took inspiration from Connie Doody, the late co-founder of Lir Chocolates. Meanwhile Piero joined a business start-up course and put together a business plan.

The idea was to offer a quality alternative to the pizza bases that were in the market by instead focusing on the quality of ingredients such as the flour, the yeasts, the pouliche and biga ingredients and the fermentation process.

“Piero learnt everything he knows through hard work and graft. He’s put that all together into these pizza bases that no one else is doing.”

They say there is never a good time to start a family or a business. But Cliona and Piero started their business, their family and got married all at the same time.

“It was a tough start. We had just bought a house and had a mortgage to pay. We were figuring out the product and we were having friends over at parties testing the product to see what they thought of it and we discovered that it was a product that could be frozen. We knew nothing about packaging, but we knew this was something we could sell.

“It was an exciting time for us. We knew that people were travelling more and knew what good pizza should taste like. We initially thought we would just sell this to foodservice. But it was a concept that was pretty new in 2007 and we began by cold calling pubs and restaurants but many just said no.”

Thankfully they persevered and sold their bases at the Co-op market on Cork Street. “For the first year or two we sold them at the Co-op every Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was a lovely community. My mum even got in on the act and was going into every shop telling them her son-in-law made these bases and many agreed. One day a woman we were talking with at the Co-op asked had we ever thought about selling them in Fallon & Byrne and that she knew someone who was a buyer there.”

That was the break Pizza da Piero was waiting for. “People started to call us because they heard about us through Fallon & Byrne. That got us focused on going into retail in a big way and we started to cultivate our logo and brand and figure out the packaging.

“Fallon & Byrne were the gateway to more independent stores. After they took us on it had mushroomed to 12 shops.”

Cutting it in business

Man and woman holding pizza and an award.

Pizza da Piero also found a space to produce their bases at Spade, an enterprise unit located in an old church near Smithfield, Dublin. “We got a mixer and a van and we were in business. Piero would be up a 5am baking and doing deliveries and I was teaching and doing deliveries. We were bootstrapping and paying our bills.”

Very quickly they outgrew the enterprise centre and a space became available in Rathmines that allowed them to increase production. At the same time a distributor called Europa Foods had heard about the pizza bases and it fitted in well with its aims to move beyond solely meat distribution to include artisan products. The relationship with Europa was pivotal as it enabled them to increase distribution and within five years they were able to buy their current unit in Rathcoole.

This was the point at which Pizza da Pierro really began to scale up with the expansion into bigger supermarket chains and recognition in 2015 in Neven Maguire’s Nation’s Favourite Foods Fast.

“We were already selling in Superquinn (now SuperValu) when Europa took over distribution and they also had relationships with a lot of independent food stores. Europa helped us with all of the merchandising, rebranding as Pizza da Piero and by 2018 we were selling in Dunne’s and Tesco too.”

The business began investing in operations including machinery strengthening the team with key hires and reconfiguring the bakery.

The onset of the pandemic resulted in a surge in demand. Meeting that demand was complicated by a shortage of staff and machinery. The challenge was also complicated by the fact that the machinery used to produce the bases is bespoke.

Swan said that the business endured through the pandemic challenges by being steadfast about the quality of the product. “Our bases are baked in a stone oven in our bakery and that’s why they retain that stone oven flavour.

“We know that people who genuinely appreciate food get satisfaction from using our products. It is also about the family experience and that’s what Pizza da Piero is all about.”

A real validation for the product comes in the form of Piero’s family demanding he brings his bases back to Italy when he visits.

Swan said that Pizza da Piero’s relationship with Bank of Ireland was integral to the company’s expansion and ability to ramp up production, especially in supporting its move to bigger premises in Rathcoole.

“Our business bank has always been Bank of Ireland who helped us to invest in more machinery. We hadn’t taken on finance until around 2015 and we were quite nervous about things like repayments but a manager in the Dundrum branch was really friendly and helpful and easy to deal with. Four years later we went back to the bank for our next mortgage.”

Swan concluded: “We wouldn’t have been able to buy our current home if it wasn’t for Bank of Ireland supporting us with the business. That support has been integral to our growth story.”

  • Bank of Ireland is welcoming new customers every day – funding investments, working capital and expansions across multiple sectors. To learn more, click here

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.



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