Nico Acampora he's the man of the moment. The extraordinary story of Pizza Aut, the first pizzeria in Italy run by autistic staff, became a book whose title, It is forbidden to trample on dreams (Solferino), is a daily promise made to himself, to his son Léo and to all autistic children hired on permanent contracts, a mantra that has crossed national borders and conquered the world. Next meeting: June 14 at the UN to tell the story (and prepare pizzas) of PizzAut also in New York, in the United Nations Glass Building. But that's not all.

After receiving the Ambrogino d'oro in 2021, being named Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic by President Mattarella, in 2022, and “European Citizen of the Year” by the European Parliament, in 2023, on May 10 Nico Acampora also receives the inclusion prize from the Guido Carli Foundation. A crescendo of recognition which is not surprising.

We interviewed the president of Pizza shortly before the announcement that he would bring food trucks from PizzAutobus everywhere in Italy. His unstoppable enthusiasm is contagious, although even for our phone call he had to cut time between a thousand commitments and the inevitable permanent presence in the pizzeria, where the inclusion and autonomy of autistic children is a wonderful daily reality that brings customers into a continuous flow. flow, here as in the second site in Monza (opening in 2023). And not just out of solidarity.

Is there a before and after PizzAut in the catering world?

“Social restoration, even in the face of other forms of disability or social disadvantage, has always existed. Before Pizza people went to eat thinking they were doing charity, but not the quality of the food or the experience. Here from PizzAut you come for the quality of the project and you come back for the quality of the foodas I always say, that is to say that people, in this case autistic, not only work but provide a quality experience and food in our restaurants.

Your main objective is to raise awareness among institutions and civil society of the issue of employability of autistic people. Where are we ?

“The last government approved, thanks to a lot of work that we and other associations have carried out, a law that recognizes innovative social start-ups, i.e. companies that employ a significant number of autistic people. We managed to have the law approved and also the implementing decrees, to obtain the opinion of the MEF and also the INPS, but unfortunately the law is blocked and inapplicable because it had to go through the European Parliament and with the change of government everything stopped.”

What does your proposal consist of?

“This law would actually increase jobs for autistic people offering a series of tax relief, but for the moment it is stopped. We will also discuss it with the Minister of Labor in the coming weeks. She came to eat at PizzAut and was very sensitive to the subject.”

Could PizzAut be an organizational model to reproduce for a pizzeria?

“Models scare me, solutions that become standardized scare me. Working with autistic people is a profession that must be “personalized” to each person. In Italy I always say, there are 600,000 autistic people and they are all different from each other. Beyond some common characteristics that affect autism, there are other characteristics that affect human beings and therefore cannot be standardized. PizzAut is certainly built in a scalable and reproducible way in the structure of the kitchens, the hall, the ovens, the tables, the soundproofing which have very specific characteristics. But in a hypothetical manual for a possible franchise, we cannot include a concept that is rare in the work and which is called love. Well, without this ingredient, PizzAut cannot succeed. Love can't be put in a textbook, but it's essential. We have requests to bring PizzAut all over Italy, but also many European countries and even Canada and Australia… everything has become so big that maybe we are no longer able to handle it.. .”.

Do you have any projects other than the franchise in the works?

“Precisely, we would like to increase work opportunities for autistic people through the duplication of what we call PizzAutobus, that is to say, food trucks that can employ autistic children. We would like to prepare some one for each Italian province, to be given therefore, managed by various associations that we will selectwe can thus generalize ourselves throughout the national territory, but above all teach associations to fish instead of giving fish, perhaps even to offer the fishing rod, in this case the PizzAutobus. At least five children can work for each truck, which would mean 600 jobs on Italian territory“.

An ambitious project?

“NOW we would like to start with Lombardy in order to validate the system, because it is our territory and we can better follow it in this first phase, with its twelve provinces, which we would like to reach by 2025. I am quite convinced that we will do it even sooner. In reality, setting up a food truck costs much less than a restaurant, making twelve means covering the entire Lombardy region with a total investment of around one and a half million euros. Because of that we are looking for companies that want to be conscious and valuable partners of our project (just suggest by email to: ordini@pizzaut.it). During the food truck will be given free of charge to the associationsthey will have no commercial risk: we will teach them to manage it, to train the children and the operators, to conduct it from both a commercial and social point of view.

The book “Forbidden to trample on dreams” written with Elisabetta Soglio, journalist from Corriere della Sera (ed. Solferino)

PizzAutobus is the new way to “not trample on dreams”…

“It’s much easier to open a food truck than to open a restaurant. Naturally, I imagine that an association, after two or three years of experimentation with a PizzAutobus, could also be ready to manage a restaurant, perhaps smaller than that of Monza or Cassina. The PizzAutobus experience can be the first step. On the other hand, this is what happened for us: before opening the restaurant, as they closed everything during the pandemic, we invented these PizzAutobuses and we put ourselves to the test.”

You were the restaurant most appreciated by LaFourchette's Italian customers this month of April. Are your customers more regulars or travelers?

“People come here from all over Italy but also from all over the world. A family came from Australia, they traveled over 15,000 kilometers to stay here for about a month to study the PizzAut system, because they would have liked to open there too, in Melbourne more precisely. Or there are schools that arrive on a trip, visit Milan and Monza and then stop at PizzAut. We have become a destination for educational trips, but also for pleasure and taste trips. Some travel agencies list PizzAut as a stop to visit. We brought a group of Brazilians with a travel agency on vacation to Italy and among the stops there was also a tasting at PizzAut. We certainly thank you The forkwho always believed in us, even when no one knew us, and in his customers who book via the app.”

Was there a particular moment when you realized you were on the right path?

“Actually, I still don’t understand it. There are so many issues surrounding autism that we are just a drop in the ocean.. Of course, as I said, most children are excluded from the world of work, but also from other possibilities. They are simply excluded from the holidays. Many autistic children find it difficult to go on vacation, I had a hard time traveling with my son when he was little, it's not easy at all. So I think that beyond the jobs PizzAut creates, perhaps the biggest work we need to do is to raise awareness, to build a different culture.

Speaking of travel…

“In the book I talk about the first plane ride with my son, who screamed because he wasn't comfortable. The person in front of us, at one point, says to us: “Okay, that’s enough, this screaming child is a bit rude.” And when we explained to her that he was not being rude, but that he was an autistic child, the distinguished lady replied: “Keep him at home, then.” Here, as you can see, There is still a lot to do“.

Is there any advice you would give to anyone looking to open a business like PizzAut today?

“Yes, the only advice I would give is: do it“.

With the same philosophy as the first day of PizzAut, which Nico Acampora defines as follows: “Throwing seeds to the wind with the hope that they can make the sky sprout”.

Info: pizzaut.it

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Video of Nico Acampora's “Nurturing inclusion” speech at TED Brianza in February 2020

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