The Marra Forni Story: An Italian American Dream Come True
October is National Italian-American Heritage Month and National Pizza Month. In honor of those observances, this month’s post is dedicated to an award-winning Italian-American business that the world’s most celebrated pizza makers love collaborating with; Marra Forni. We are proud to partner with America’s fastest growing manufacturer of Italian-inspired handcrafted brick ovens, who began their business with a mission to create custom built ovens in the United States, in an innovative way that had never been done before.
“I remember my grandmother making fried pizzas in the evening – we didn’t have an oven at home – so she would make round shaped pizzas like a calzone and stuff them with mozzarella and tomatoes, or chicory and ricotta with black pepper, or ricotta and mozzarella together…and we loved those!”
On our way home from school as young kids we got a pizza a portafoglio a folded “wallet” pizza that we could easily eat on the street and afford with little cash in our wallets,” says CEO and Co-Founder Francesco Marra.
The Marra brothers got started in the brick oven business because a friend asked if they could help him import an oven from Italy. The manufacturers there would not build it the way that their friend desired, so they decided to make one for him. It is that same heartfelt desire to help create what clients truly want that motivates them daily. The Marra family also credits over 70 years of combined experience in the food industry for enabling them to better respond to the needs of their prospective clients when making pizza ovens.
Nowadays, Marra Forni manufactures a variety of ovens built for a wide range of physical spaces and applications. Ovens come in configurations that use multiple fuel sources, including wood, gas-fired, or electric. Their flagship oven series, the Rotator, addresses three increasingly important needs of restaurateurs; the lack of qualified labor, repeatable consistency, and food quality and production efficiency. Marra Forni’s brick ovens are handmade by artisans using a mixture of materials including their own proprietary refractory Italian bricks (MarraStone®), metal, and volcanic pumice stone for insulation.
“Approximately 80% of the materials and all of the electronics are American,” says COO and Co-Founder Enzo Marra. “We’ve invested in technology and a modernized interface” Francesco said of the ovens. “We retained our Italian inspired design, but with a modernized style. We strive to constantly improve and continually innovate in everything we do!” All of the technological and digital components come from the U.S. and comply with U.S. quality and durability standards. Their ovens represent the strength, tradition, and culture of Authentic Artisan Italian brick ovens while embracing American love of technology and innovation.
Now in its 10th year, Marra Forni has become a VPN certified leader in the brick pizza oven industry and has received industry recognition from the National Restaurant Association and Kitchen Innovations as well as the prestigious Italian award, the Premio Eccellenza Italiana. They were also named the “2020 Champion of Maryland Manufacturing for Innovation” by the RMI (Regional Manufacture Institute of Maryland).
“Pizza has always been a major part of our lives”, says Enzo. He adds, we grew up buying it for 50 lire on our way home from school, it was a delicious and inexpensive meal we could afford with friends as we got older, and fried pizza was our weekly Sunday morning treat. Now, it is our livelihood, and we are proud to share the tradition with the world”, he added.
Marra Forni is currently present in 5 continents and in 23 Countries worldwide and produces more than 300-400 ovens per year. The company often donates their ovens to various community events that need them. The most memorable of these events is the NY Food & Wine Festival which benefited No Kid Hungry and serving pizzas for our US Veterans at Washington DC VA Medical Center. Known as the “Ferraris of the pizza oven world”, Marra Forni ovens can be spotted everywhere from Whole Foods to Food Network shows, hospitals, military bases, and many more. For the past four years, they have participated in Pizza Festivals around the United States such as this year’s festival in Atlanta. Previous festivals have been in Boston, LA and next year, hopefully, DC.
While their culinary visions continue to grow, both Francesco and Enzo Marra believe that they and Marra Forni have achieved a “small slice of the American dream”. They continue being a Company that cares and gives back to the community as a part of their culture. “Our main interest is the well-being of human beings including our team, customers, families, and communities at large. We are driven by our passion for the industry and helping people. It is our main mission to set our customers up for success with the best equipment and service possible,” both Marra brothers affirm.
A pizza business, however, needs much more than state of the art equipment to thrive. Along with passion, a skilled pizzaiolo and pizza business operating strategies are needed, “Do you know any chef, I need a chef” is another common comment that Enzo and Francesco Marra get asked continuously. There is a real shortage of talented pizza makers who have the training needed to succeed in the fast-paced and demanding job of being a pizzaiolo. After witnessing their clients’ businesses fail because they didn’t have the properly trained employees, the Marra family decided to start a school, and the Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center was born.
Since the beginning, we have hired pizza-industry leaders to teach classes in various styles of pizza. Having VPN recognition is important not only to the Marra brothers, but also to their clients who are interested in upholding the integrity of authentic Neapolitan pizza in their businesses. The VPN Association was founded in 1984 and is based on a protocol in order to protect and increase the value of the pizzas produced and processed according to the old Neapolitan traditions and customs that earned it a place UNESCO cultural heritage status. For many pizzerias, having the VPN seal of approval, denotes authenticity and quality, and Marra Forni is proud to be an approved supplier on their list. In addition, our many instructors are long-standing members of VPN.
“As immigrants we are ambassadors of Italian traditions, culture, and heritage. For the Marra Brothers, it is important to export and expand the tradition of brick oven making in the United States, since we have been doing it for millennia in Italy. Knowing that the equipment has such a tradition or heritage, we continue to manufacture as much as possible. Our main purpose is to make our client successful with our business because we indirectly help them to feed millions or thousands of people, and that makes us very proud. One customer said after 10 years, I need to know what to do with my oven, he said he needed some repairs. I asked him how many pizza he makes, and he said he was making 400 pizzas per day for 7 days a week, year round. With just one of our ovens, he made 1,460,000 pizzas – $24 million in revenue with an investment of one of just one piece of equipment. Those are the things that make us smile. Through our ovens we make our clients successful and feed millions of people,” said Francesco Marra.