Laura Meyer landed her first job 10 years ago, at 17, the way most teenagers do — by wanting to work where her friends did. It was a serendipitous start to what has turned out to be a wildly successful career choice: Meyer has since won both the World Pizza Championship in pan pizza in 2013 in Parma, Italy and the 2014 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas for non-traditional pizza.
"I never expected that at all, especially being the first time out. When you go to the competitions in Italy, you see people that have been making pizza their entire lives — longer than I've been alive — so it's intimidating," she says. "And then to hear your name be called, it's shocking. No one really knew who I was or what I was capable of. I knew I was good at it, but I didn't know."
There is one person, though, who knew Meyer's capabilities, and that's her boss and mentor, Tony Gemignani, who is famous for his accomplishments in the world of pizza, which include being a 12-time World Pizza Champion and master instructor at the International School of Pizza, as well as owning 13 pizzerias. Gemignani mentored Meyer up the ranks, and she is now the head chef/pizzaiola at Tony's Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, Gemignani's flagship restaurant.
Working under Gemignani, Meyer learned the ins and outs of the pizza world to the point where she now runs daily operations at Tony's and teaches alongside Gemignani at the San Francisco branch of the International School of Pizza. "It's hard to find a mentor that you can stick with for that long and actually continue to learn from the entire time," Meyer says. "When he's constantly learning, it means I'm constantly learning, and his passion definitely rubs off on me and helps push me, in addition to my own driving force."
Meyer attributes her driving force to her family, which has an army background. "They always pushed me to achieve more, so I was never going to be satisfied with just working the line for 12 hours a day and repeating it five to six days a week," she said. "The fact that there are competitions and the teaching aspect to pizza, plus a whole culture and tradition and passion surrounding it — it all spoke to me."
Meyer now spends her days honoring that tradition, while moving it forward. There aren't many pizzerias in the country helmed by a young female chef that have 30-people-deep lines out the door upon opening. While people do come for Meyer's traditional pies, it's ones like her award-winning, non-traditional pizza with rosemary-infused dough, braised lamb, tzatziki yogurt, pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, and chili flakes that have people lining up each and every day. It's inventive pizzas like that that have been getting Meyer so much attention — good and bad. "Especially abroad, I get the idea of people looking at me because I'm American and a woman like, ‘Oh, that's cute, she's trying, she makes pizza too,'" Meyer says. "I use that to my advantage."
You get the sense that Meyer always knows exactly what she is doing, despite playing coy. Her choice to major in Italian language and history at San Francisco State University, combined with a year studying abroad in Italy, was a choice she calls "lucky," but it's one that has served her incredibly well in a career born out of Italy. It's as if, since 17, she always knew this would be the end goal, and each decision along the way has worked toward this exact outcome.
For now, Meyer is content with her life working at Tony's and teaching, but the future is something that's been on her mind lately. "I'm not sure whether or not owning a pizzeria is in my future. I just know there's a lot more out there that I still want to learn," she said. "I couldn't have planned it better to start young and develop my career into what this has become. This is the ideal for someone like me."
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Stefanie Tuder is Eater San Francisco's senior editor.
Laura Meyer is the head chef and pizzaiola at Tony's Pizza Napoletana and the administrator and teaching assistant at the International School of Pizza. Images by Patrica Chang.
Editors: Dana Hatic and Sonia Chopra
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
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