Meet the Lancashire man who sells pizza ovens to the stars
- Credit: Archant
Few people thought wood fired pizza ovens would catch on in England. But a Preston entrepreneur proved them all wrong. Emma Mayoh reports.
No foodie’s garden is complete without a wood fired pizza oven. But when Andrew Manciocchi decided to sell state-of-the-art pizza ovens 15 years ago, not many were convinced. He’d left behind a career and his own business in insurance administration and introduced prestigious Italian Valoriani pizza ovens – considered one of the most prestigious brands in the world – to the English market.
But Andrew’s story proves that persistence pays off. Today, Andrew is known as the person to go to should you want to buy the best wood fired pizza ovens. Customers buying the ‘Orchard Ovens by Valoriani’ range from the super rich to those who have saved for years to get one.
His client list is a who’s who of some of the biggest name chefs, musicians and actors. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were two of his first customers. He’s also fitted ovens for stars like Guy Ritchie, who when he was questioned about his divorce from Madonna, chose to wax lyrical about Valoriani ovens instead. Gary Barlow and Paul McCartney are also fans and Andrew has worked with Harrods and The River Cafe. One of his first big breaks also came when he appeared in Lancashire Life when he first started the business 15 years ago.
‘I think we probably caused Guy Ritchie and Madonna’s divorce,’ jokes Andrew. ‘They had a beautiful garden and she didn’t want the oven in it. She told Guy if he installed it, she’d divorce him. He went ahead and we never saw her at the house again.
‘Gwyneth Paltrow has been one of our biggest fans who’s really been a great supporter of the business. I didn’t realise it was their house as we were dealing with Chris Martin’s brother. Then one day my phone rang and it was Chris. I couldn’t believe it. They have always been really nice and we even gave Gwyneth some training on how to use hers.
‘One of our first big breaks, though, was an event held in a customer’s back garden and the pictures were in Lancashire Life. We got lots of calls after that.’
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Andrew’s reputation and the quality of Valoriani ovens has also lead to some exciting opportunities. He went into business with Jamie Oliver, supplying ovens for his brand for four years.
‘I was invited to his house to make a video for his website. As it happened, Jamie was also staging his Christmas party for his staff. I ended up giving lessons to his chefs, I cooked with Gennaro Contaldo and Jamie and then I went into business with the Jamie Oliver Group. We did that for four years and he is a fantastic person.’
Andrew’s passion for pizza ovens is borne out of his first-hand experience of them in Italy. But it is also connected to his own heritage and a burning desire to celebrate and tap into his family roots. His dad, Venanzio, who grew up in Montelanico, a province of Rome, arrived in England in 1953 aged just 17. He harboured dreams of opening his own pizzeria but he was discouraged by relatives who never thought the English would understand pizza. It was a desire to reconnect with his Italian roots that Andrew started to look at options.
‘Before I started thinking about this I couldn’t speak Italian, even though many members of my family did,’ said Andrew, whose business is based in Preston. ‘I’d been living in a very English way and wasn’t connected to my past.
‘But then I recognised and knew I wanted to keep that family heritage going. I’d never cooked so I learned how to do that with Italian friends living in Preston. To be taken in and welcomed like they did really meant a lot to me. I started to learn Italian and I even tried building my own pizza oven.’
It was at this point he discovered Valoriani, which was located just a few miles from the place he’d holidayed at in Italy with his family for the previous decade. Sold on the idea of selling the ovens in the UK, Andrew committed to selling five ovens in his first year in 2003 in return for the exclusive selling rights in the UK.
His target increased every year and each year he hit it. His son, Dino, has now joined the business with daughter, Christina, also helping out. They look set to continue Andrew’s hard work with the Valoriani family in Florence. Andrew and his children run the UK part of the business with Massimo Valoriani and daughter Viola based in Tuscany.
But the boom in popularity has also created unexpected challenges. Valoriani pizza ovens are a luxury item – you can expect to pay thousands but less expensive options are now widely available.
‘I suppose it’s a case of be careful what you wish for,’ said Andrew. ‘Over the past 15 years, I’ve achieved my dream of seeing English families and chefs cook with wood-fired Italian ovens, and have developed the love of pizza more than my father could have ever imagined, but it’s come at a price. The market is now full of inadequate ovens that damage the wood-fired market, because they are not authentic, and have no longevity. People are getting what they pay for and seeing their purchase fail after less than two years while many of our customers from 2003 are still using their Valoriani oven. It’s up to us to maintain those high standards.’
Despite all of his success, there is one person Andrew hopes would be most proud of him. ‘My dad always wanted his own pizzeria and I hope he would be pleased with what I’ve done,’ he said. ‘I feel like I’ve proved something and really hope that my dad would be proud of me. He was a special man and to be able to fulfil one of his dreams means a lot.