Peace & Pizza: How a Belfast Pizzaiolo Triumphed Over the Troubles

Within the midst of the Troubles in Northern Eire within the Nineteen Nineties, as Catholics and Protestants waged a low-level warfare that usually didn’t really feel low-level in any respect, Ciaran Kelly was only a child who dreamed of peace—and pizza.

“Pizza was most likely my old flame,” says Kelly, who now owns the three-store Pizza Guyz chain in Belfast. His earliest recollections of pizza delights got here when his brother took him to certainly one of Belfast’s few pizza eating places greater than 35 years in the past. He was fascinated by the hustle and bustle and might nonetheless distinctly bear in mind the scent of charred dough and Italian seasonings. He was hooked.

Quick-forward seven years: Kelly was 18 and determined to purchase a pizza oven and plug it into his mother’s storage. He taught himself the intricacies of the craft—no straightforward feat when there was no web and no YouTube. As a substitute, he relied on pizza magazines, together with PMQ, and ideas and tips from throughout the water, primarily the U.S. and Italy. “Tom Lehmann, the Dough Physician, was an enormous inspiration,” Kelly says. “He was at all times available to assist out every time wanted.”

“I drummed up fairly a little bit of native enterprise from neighbors and passersby,” Kelly recollects, “however my mum gave me an ultimatum: Discover a store or I needed to transfer out of the home, as she was getting lots of complaints from some not-so-supportive neighbors.”

And that’s when Kelly based his first pizza store, known as Kel Pizza, within the coronary heart of a war-torn a part of the nation.

Bombs, Bullets and Pies
Belfast was a scorching zone through the Troubles, a deeply divided metropolis that confronted the specter of sudden violence each single day. Kelly was only a naïve teenager, however he hoped that his pizza store might convey either side of the group collectively—the Protestant unionists (loyalists) and the Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans). To many in Belfast, that was a ridiculous proposition: mistrust and hatred between the 2 teams had been festering for many years.

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However the Good Friday Settlement, ratified by voters in each Eire and Northern Eire, had simply been signed, and Kelly, being an optimist, thought his plan might work. Sadly, the 1998 peace settlement didn’t cease the violence immediately.

“It didn’t begin off effectively as my store acquired petrol-bombed and raided quite a lot of occasions,” Kelly remembers. “Our supply drivers’ automobiles have been getting burnt at checkpoints, and, on one event, certainly one of our drivers acquired shot at. However we persevered. We introduced leaders of either side of the battle collectively at group conferences over a couple of pizzas, and I used to be simply amazed at how pizza might convey even individuals with such conflicting attitudes collectively.”

Pizza Guyz

“From these constructive conferences,” he says, “we have been capable of ship our pizza merchandise to all sides of the town with no hazard for our workers or drivers, and since then, there by no means has been [any danger].”

Kelly says he and his group additionally helped pave the way in which for different eateries and companies to work hand-in-hand throughout the town. Quick-forward one other 25 years, and he’s now the proud founding father of the multi-award-winning Pizza Guyz.

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Giving Again
Pizza Guyz, which opened in Belfast in 2017, was honored final yr with the Northern Eire Takeaway Awards for finest pizza and finest general takeaway in addition to the Sure Chef Award for the most effective pizza of the yr.

In flip, Kelly reveals his appreciation for his prospects by giving again to the group. In line with an article on the Belfast Stay web site, Pizza Guyz had donated greater than 1,000 meals to the homeless as of August 27 final yr and offered 500 pizza kits to numerous colleges that serve younger individuals with particular wants.

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The pizza kits have been launched through the COVID-19 pandemic and turned out to be a serious success, Kelly says. In simply 12 weeks, Kelly bought 27,000 pizza kits, and he turned prospects’ kitchens into pizza workshops by means of dwell Zoom calls on Friday evenings, bringing households collectively to make and benefit from the world’s biggest meals through the disaster.

this photo shows Pizza Guyz' pizza kit, complete with a list of the ingredients as well as the ingredients themselves in a box, such as pepperoni, cheese, bell peppers, jalapeños, sauces and napkins
Pizza Guyz

Pizza Guyz additionally at the moment presents pizza workshops at native colleges. “Deprived youngsters can come and study the artwork of creating pizza without spending a dime,” Kelly notes.

Kelly’s staff have even been recognized to go away the store throughout sluggish intervals and decide up litter on the streets and sidewalks.

For the Love of Pizza
Kelly’s pizza menu displays some well-known American themes, such because the Texan BBQ (hen, barbecue sauce, bacon and onions); The New Yorker (pepperoni, ham, bacon and mushrooms); and the Cajun Rooster Delight (hen marinated in Cajun spices, peppers, mushrooms and jalapenos). There’s even a triple-pepperoni and extra-cheese pie known as America’s Favorite.

And paying homage to that quintessential American chain, Domino’s, within the Nineteen Eighties, Pizza Guyz guarantees that each pizza will probably be delivered piping-hot to the client’s door inside half-hour, or the client doesn’t must pay. “That’s our distinctive promoting proposition,” Kelly says. “It’s a broad mission assertion, however I maintain my workers to a really excessive degree of requirements, and we ship on this promise week in and week out.”

a pizza topped with pieces of chicken, mushrooms, onions and corn
The Roast Rooster Feast pizza (Pizza Guyz / Fb)

And Pizza Guyz retains evolving with the altering occasions. Regulars can take pleasure in particular offers, unique presents and shock items by means of the corporate’s loyalty program, the Pizza Guyz Membership. “We at the moment are launching a take-and-bake pizza providing, the place the client will probably be in full management of getting their superb pizza from Pizza Guyz, however they will cook dinner it every time and wherever they need,” Kelly provides. “We’ve additionally launched the most important pizza in Eire and the UK, as we discover that, for events and get-togethers, large pizzas appear to be the in-trend factor now. The children love taking these movies and posting them to TikTok and Instagram.”

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Kelly says Eire’s pizza tradition continues to evolve as effectively. “It’s superb to see the colourful selection and several types of pizza spots now popping up in metropolis facilities and much more rural places, right down to hipster-style pizza vans that simply float from automobile park to automobile park,” he says. “Pizza in Eire has now change into the No. 1 quick meals, and I believe it’s right down to the eagerness and love that a lot of the operators have for the craft of creating pizzas. It’s not your common quick meals, and it’s the most effective meals for bringing the entire household collectively.”

Pizza Guyz at the moment has three places, with a fourth one coming to Lisburn, however Kelly doesn’t plan to cease there. “There’s curiosity in one other three places throughout Northern Eire,” he says. “We wish to develop our model sluggish and regular and construct from inside, giving all of our staff the chance to progress their pizza profession additional and, ideally, for them to personal and function their very own Pizza Guyz in a unique a part of Eire,” he says. “We really feel that is one of the simplest ways to develop our model, as it will likely be executed with love, care and respect for the craft of creating pizza.”