The owners of Bello Pizza have been slinging pies for a few months now, topping off their Toronto restaurant careers with a venture closer to family.
The popular pizzeria, which already has a thriving location on Bloor St W in Toronto, is known for its traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas made with fresh, high-quality ingredients and cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven.
“We really wanted to focus on bringing the best of the best,” said Leah LeBlanc, co-owner of the new restaurant in Collingwood.
Leah owns and operates Bello Pizza alongside her husband, Andrew, and their long-time friend and colleague Mike, as an evolution of the original Bello Pizza that began in Toronto during the heat of the pandemic.
Born and raised in Toronto, Andrew and Leah were both furloughed when the pandemic hit. Andrew was working as the executive chef of SoHo House at the time and Leah at the Ritz Carlton and between the two of them, they have over 30 years of restaurant experience.
They spent the next few months living at Andrew’s family’s cottage, cooking delicious food and talking about their vision for the future. “The pandemic reconfigured our idea of what we wanted in life,” said Leah.
Later that year, Andrew was approached by the late Jimson Bienenstock, founder and former manager of SoHo House and an old friend. Bienenstock was opening the third location of his euro-centric cafe, Hot Black Coffee, and asked Andrew if he would be interested in churning out authentic Italian pies for takeout and delivery in the back of the coffee shop.
“Together they concocted this really great pandemic-proof business,” said Leah.
The first Bello Pizza was born.
The name itself comes from Andrew’s Italian heritage. Literally translated, bello means handsome, nice, or good, and Andrew has been using it as a term of endearment for friends and family for as long as he can remember.
His Italian grandmother taught Andrew how to make pizza from a very young age, and he has spent the majority of his life working the oven and experimenting with pizza at every stage of the process and in a variety of environments.
“Pizza is his forte,” Leah said. “He is a very talented pizzaiolo.”
It began as a few friends messing around with different styles of pizza and it took off. Leah and Andrew always wanted to open a business outside of the city, so they started toying with the idea of opening a second location in Collingwood. Both of them have family ties to South Georgian Bay.
“We love this area,” she said. “It is in our family and it is in our heart.”
They brought on Mike, who worked as Andrew’s executive sous chef at SoHo House years ago, to manage Bello Pizza in Toronto while Andrew and Leah began scouting out other locations up north.
The process took longer than they ever could have anticipated, but Leah said it was well worth the wait.
“The space was totally gutted when we saw it, you really needed vision.,” said Leah. “But it came together better than we ever could have expected.
Since officially opening its doors in February, Bello Pizza Collingwood has quickly become a popular spot for local and visiting pizza lovers alike.
The pizzas are made with Italian flour and Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese. The tomato sauce is made with fresh Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes from northern California.
“You can literally pluck one out and take a bite and it tastes like sunshine,” said Leah.
The pizzas are cooked at a lower heat typical of Neapolitan pies, though LeBlanc doesn't like to ascribe to one specific type of style. They just want to make a no-frills pizza that tastes good.
“We wanted to bring this really enchanting but casual dining experience to Collingwood, because that’s what we live when we dine out,” said Leah.
Now that they have their feet grounded, the team is looking for innovative and exciting ways they can engage with the community throughout the summer.
“Now that our feet are solid underneath us, we want to up the ante. How can we improve?” said Leah.
Bello Pizza is located at 72 First St, Collingwood and is open Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.
For more information, visit their website.