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Pizzanista: The Best Pizza In LA Is Skater Owned

Pizzanista: The Best Pizza In LA Is Skater Owned

We got to sit down with iconic skateboarder Salman Agah and talk about life as a pro skater in the 90's, winning Thrasher Skater Of The Year, designing a multitude of pro shoes on Vans, some of his favourite board graphics, and how skateboarding led him to entrepreneurship. He has an interesting approach on being self employed and I think people will really enjoy it. Watch the full interview below.


What made you want to start a pizza shop?
The reason I got into owning my own brand and specifically pizza was I like the correlation between how creative skateboarding is just as activity. I thought in terms of food, it's hard to get creative with like French food or like Italian per say or like specific ethnic cuisines. I feel like there's a lot of rules and formalities around like how you produce sauces for French cuisine and things like that. I never really thought of starting a pizzeria, I always started I always thought of starting my own brand and to me it's basically a skate brand and instead of focusing on hard goods, apparel, or footwear, we serve food. With pizza I like the idea that it’s one of those blank canvases, that you can kind of do anything with, I felt like there would be infinite possibilities to create. That to me is what's fun about this enterprise and just being in business in general.

What are some of your most famous skate inspired food items?
Our menu had items over the years that have been inspired by skateboarding. When we first started doing collaborations, our first one was with Street League, that kind of kicked off like the whole custom pizza box idea. We’ve done collaborations with Thrasher, Santa Cruz, Glen E. Friedman, Gonz, Hosoi, Joel Tudor ( & Niel Blender did the artwork for that one).

We've done a lot of really interesting collaborations over the years so as far as the menu goes, we have had some fun stuff. So we had the Glen E. Vegan, which I'd like to bring back it was like a kale pizza with avocado and I think it had broccoli and olives,  it was really good.

 Then Hosoi had a crazy pizza, so we did a book release party for his book when his autobiography came out. It was moco loco, which is the Hawaiian themed had rice and gravy and ground beef and eggs and feels pretty wild. Then the Cab salad, that's actually a seasonal menu item so when strawberries and blueberries and certain produce is in season, we’ll reintroduce it.

How did you get your start in skating?
Cab lived in the same town as I did, Ray Barbee and Robert Torres also lived in my town. A lot of sponsored skaters for Santa Cruz and other brands. I think Ray road for Alva when I first met him.

I talked to Stacy about it not long ago, and I was telling him I felt at that time that if he knew that I existed, like just if he knows that I exist on earth, then I got it made, you know like that's all I need. I was skating with Cab, and I was with Jovontae Turner actually, he was visiting from San Francisco, and Stacy came up to film Steve for public domain. We all went out and all hung out and skated that day he put us on the end of the day, were on the team.  I remember we went and had sushi, I never had sushi before, we had this huge platter, it was such a cool experience, when I think back to my childhood and that time. I think when I was a kid, being part of that bones brigade era and being recognized by Stacy Peralta was a conscious manifestation. It wasn't like “Oh I want to be pro”, it was more that I wanted to belong in the skateboarding community. I just wanted I really loved the fashion, art, music, the style, like the whole vibe of skateboarding and the community back then in the 80’s. I just wanted to be part of it, so that was kind of like my single minded focus, and so that's kind of how that happened.

You’re widely viewed as one of the pioneers of street skating, what inspired that?
The whole movement to skate backwards, I do want to say I saw a couple clips of Gonz and I want to say one of Tommy, and I want to I think they were both doing the same trick which was like basically a stale fish, but backwards 'cause they were doing switch backside airs but they were early grabbing like off a jump ramp or a bump or something. One of the things that was very conscious in my thought process when I was a kid was differentiation. I already knew in order to stand out, you had to be an individual, you had to add something different.

So as the boards started changing, I was super into nollieing, and one of the people that inspired me big time was Natas. I was in San Francisco and we were skating brown marble benches right around the corner from embarcadero, and I saw Natas, he didn't even grind, he just did a nollie up to 50-50 stall on one of the benches, and I was like I was blown away cause I've never seen that before. From that moment forward I focused my skating on that, so I was doing a lot of nollie tricks. Then the other thing that just kind of serendipitously helped me was when I first started skating I pushed mongo, and I learned to push the other way, and so when I started going backwards I could just push very naturally, I didn't have to push switch mongo. so that's one of the things that I think made my skating switch looks so natural. But yeah I had some inspiration for sure, Natas, Gonz, Tommy, and Ray Barbee, I idolized a lot as when I was young.

Why is Pizzanista pizza so good?
From the culinary aspect, what makes our pizza so different is that we make everything in house, you know a lot of pizzerias use package ingredients or pre-made ingredients. or frozen dough. We actually make our own sourdough crust, and we actually we make our sauce from scratch, and we also do use a lot of most of all of our produce is organic. So from a product standpoint it's super elevated, and we use all the highest quality proteins, cheeses, meats and source as much as we can from sustainably raised farmers, so on the product level it's a lot higher quality.

Pizzanista has always had lots of Vegan options, what inspired that?
Our menu hasn't really evolved much since we opened, but from the get go I felt it was important to have plant based options, and we've always done that, and it's something that we look to expand on. I think there's a lot of innovation happening with plant based products and also with just protein in general, there's a company called they used to be called Memphis meats, they're actually doing proteins that are grown like in a lab, so like no animals get killed like they take the animal proteins and grow steaks and chicken legs or breasts, and all kinds of stuff. You could never even tell by eating it, that it wasn't raised on a farm, slaughtered and processed. I think innovations like that are things that we want to be a part of, and I think ultimately thinking long term about sustainability. As a brand it behooves us to embrace things that have less impact on the environment, so that's kind of our mission with what we serve. 

You’ve done some amazing collaborations over the years, any favourites?Over the last decade we have probably done over 100 collaborations and it was just something that I was interested in doing to essentially create our brand and differentiate it. I noticed that like we could get plain pizza boxes, so I just started treating the box as essentially like the bottom of a skateboard deck, and we have just been doing different graphics and working with different artists and photographers.

I mean we've done it's cool like we had all ebola on the on a box that R to shot no we had the markings all this box that we did was amazing we only did fifty of them and they were all laser etched boxes they were really cool all different colours we did a collaboration with the descendants for their last album release and we did you know gave away like CDs and we got to brand the front of the box with Milo and super cool so yeah we've worked with local photographers who are world known world we're now in like estevan oriel who's from ELA has shot a lot of like chicano and latino and like gangster culture around los angeles lowrider culture.

I see lots of pro skaters and celebrities posting eating at Pizzanista, any notable visits over the years?
It’s funny, I say everyone from Tony Alva to Tony hawk's been here from the skateboarding world. We appreciate the fact that we've gotten so much support from the skateboarding community, my peers, and friends. I was sitting here having a meeting the other day and Koston came by, and you know Greco's here often, Andrew Reynolds. Most of my employees skate, so they recognize all the guys that come by, but we have everyone form P-Rod to Nyjah, everyone’s been here, and they speak really positively about our place, which is also really cool.

What was it like winning Thrasher Skater of The Year?
I think it was after the original Real video, there was a big party up in San Francisco, it wasn't like what they are now. We had a big party in a warehouse with a ramp, and it was kind of surreal you know. In retrospect, thinking about that time winning Skater of the Year, I wasn't really prepared for it. Now people are prepared cause it's like a thing that people work towards.

That kind of just T-boned me, at the time, in all honesty I felt like I was still learning how to skate, I still had a lot of learning to do. It really was an interesting thing for me, cause it brought me to a place in my life where, it brings things to the surface like a you know trauma or whatever and that's kind of what that moment was for me like it didn't it almost didn't serve me at the time you know it was kind of a disservice I'm really grateful for it but it made my life difficult for a while. I wasn't really prepared for it emotionally or mentally, or in any way, but like I said, I'm super grateful and I wouldn't change anything but yeah it was an experience.

What was it like getting a pro shoe at that time?
I think I had five different pro shoes with Vans, and yeah it was kind of a challenging time when I got my pro shoe. Soletech (Etnies, Es, Emerica) and DC were new and they were doing some really cool innovations for skate shoes, and I think they were a little more nimble because they were smaller companies and they were able to just do things really quickly. Vans was having an identity crisis at the time, so dealing with a lot of the folks that worked at vans at the time was challenging because they didn't have any connection to skateboarding, they were into fashion and Vans was also transitioning their manufacturing out of the states to Asia, so that was challenging.  So it was it was cool, it was fun, but it was hard to make what we wanted, and it was hard to get what was on paper, into the physical product.

Do you have a favorite pro shoe from over the years?
Not really because the shoes that I actually wanted to make, they never got made, I would propose stuff and then they had a certain direction they wanted to go and certain aspects would get incorporated. But no I really don't, I honestly don't like any of them.

What inspired the elephant on your shoes?
I'm a huge Mike Vallely fan, you know from when I was a kid, I loved Mike, I love Mike. He's always been another inspiring person to me in skateboarding. I always loved that graphic with the elephant that he had on Powell, and I love that board, and that's really what inspired that. There’s no other meaning, it was like a connection to something that I like, and obviously a very abstract connection because there's no resemblance at all, but that's where I got the idea from.

Where did the Powell Peralta Lion Graphic come from?
That’s different because I was working on a film, I was invited by the Iranian government to head an effort to build an Olympics skate team. We were going to document this whole process, so when Powell it hit me up about doing my board, I really wanted it to be connected to my cultural heritage. Both my parents are from Iran, so I chose a lion because that's like the national symbol of Iran, and then there's some calligraphy that's a pattern in the background. I wanted VCJ to do the graphics, I think he's done a lot of iconic imagery for skateboarding so I wanted something that would not be like a graphic that you switch it out right away.

Any favorite pro model from over the years?
Favorite graphic of mine? I have it actually, it's one of the only ones I have, but Jeff Clint, who was one of the guys that started Real, he and this other guy Jeff Whitehead, he is a skater and then became a tattoo artist, they did a graphic for me that I love and it was slick board. and it was a guy that kind of had a helmet on with like these blinders looking at his clock, it was called the time chaser. It was kind of a commentary on how our society is so focused on work and how silly that seems. You know for some reason but specially when I was a kid so I really like that then I have the original so like one of the only original graphics I have.

The Kevin Ancell ‘chasing the wind’ graphic, that was a cool one, I loved all my Kevin Ancell graphics. He did another one that was like from a reference to a biblical passage that said “kill, steal, and destroy” that was a really cool one, I wish I had those original art pieces because they're so cool.

What’s your favorite local skateboard shop?
Well I guess in LA I'd say Kingswell, I don't know they seem to be on it, and then I'm like I don't know they just seem to always have cool new shit going through there. I like Patrick and you know the guys that own it and run it. Shit man, any independently owned local shop I love them all.

What drew you to entrepreneurship?
I think with regards to my endeavours and being an entrepreneur, I think a lot of it just stems from having a very kind of independent spirit naturally. I think that's one of the things that attracted me to skating, part of it is like a fear of having some entity or agent or company or someone else like controlling me or telling me what to do with my time. Since I was a little kid you know I feel like I don't want someone to direct my time you know I want to direct it myself, so I think that's one of the drivers. And then my dad's an entrepreneur, so it was modeled for me as a child. I think that when you're a skateboarder you take risks and I think that you learn a lot about yourself taking those risks. That kind of toughness you have to have to come back from falling to deal with failure, because we deal with it all the time, so I just kind of consciously thought I have all those tools so I should try some stuff.

There's actually a guy called Tony Campollo who's a sociology professor that you know he's been an advisor to all kinds of statesman here in the United States. He interviewed 50 people over the age of 95, and he did this study and asked them if they could live their lives again, what would they do differently. They said they would reflect more, and they would risk more, and they would do something in their life that would last after they were gone, so I've kind of lived by that ever since. It's not easy (being an entrepreneur), I mean I've shed tears over the years, over being broke, owing people money and having partnerships that go sour, it sucks. There's a lot of pitfalls but I think it's all worth it in the end if for me if I get to be the one telling myself what to do, for me business is more of just a framework to continue to be able to have a creative expression. I think when you talk to most people who are in business, unless they're in finance, it's not about the money, it's having a creative outlet and doing something that is positive for community, for your family, or something like that. You know money is whatever, it's part of the equation but it's not the be all end all.

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