Emilio Finatti owner Aaron Gehrman preps one of his many pizzas.

Emilio Finatti owner Aaron Gehrman preps one of his many pizzas.

Las Vegas win for White Rock pizzeria

Emilio Finatti owner cites community support for growing success

Aaron Gehrman is the owner of a popular White Rock pizza joint, but he owes a lot to Chinese food.

That’s because until 1986, the family was Jewish-Orthodox and kosher.

“There were all these food restrictions. Then in ‘86 my dad discovered Chinese food, so it was all down hillfrom there,” Gehrman laughed.

The 31-year-old owner of Emilio Finatti Sicilian Pizzeria grew up surrounded by food and dreamt of owning his own restaurant as a kid – especially after watching the pizza-loving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Nine years ago, that childhood dream came to fruition with the opening of his Five Corners pizza place, with his food-loving dad, Ray, there to help him every step of the way.

And late last month, Gehrman was able to fulfill yet another dream by completing a successful turn at the World Pizza Competitions in Las Vegas, where he and his team took home third place in the international traditional pizza competition.

“It was surreal,” Gehrman said about the March 25-27 event. “It was our first time competing and it was so rewarding after the team and I had worked so hard.”

With only a limited selection of ingredients to choose from for the traditional category, Gehrman went with a tried and true favourite: pepperoni, using the product he gets from his top-secret independent Abbotsford butcher.

wThe restaurant itself was a bit of a gamble for Gehrman, a self-taught chef and self-professed foodie, who took over the former location of Gangster Pizza, pouring his life savings into his venture, which he named after his father’s longtime friend.

“It sounded more authentic than Aaron’s pizza,” he admitted.

After a bumpy start, business has steadily grown for Gehrman, who still recalls his first few months of being in business.

“When I first opened, the community was tremendously supportive. When I first opened, I was doing a pan pizza, and it wasn’t so great. A lot of people who came through said, ‘well, your heart’s in the right place and we really like your energy, so we’ll try you in a couple months,’” he said. “After being in business for two or three months, we decided to go the traditional route, get rid of the pan and make the pizza on the baker’s stone.”

That community support has been the real secret to his success, he said, noting that through word of mouth he has had patrons from as far as Delta and Langley – where he lives – all of whom encouraged him to participate in the Las Vegas competition.

“Honestly, I just want to cook and make food that makes people happy,” he said. “To have everything slowly come together, it’s amazing.”