Not your average pizza delivery guy

A London, Ont., pizza pro is hoping to take his show on the road

Not your average pizza delivery guy


Here’s the elevator pitch: the Pizza Rider, a culinary superhero, rides across North America on a custom Harley, and stops to help families revive their old-fashioned pizzerias. When he isn’t turning struggling restaurants around, he’s visiting famous pizza haunts, or retracing the history of the pie. “I’m a pizza expert playing a character who is bigger than life, like Batman,” said Dino Ciccone, the London, Ont.-based creator, executive producer and star of The Pizza Rider. “The show has 30 to 40 million potential viewers. I crunched the numbers. Everyone loves pizza.”

For now, the show is in pilot mode. But CBS nibbled after seeing the first episode. In it, Ciccone helps a son and daughter who have inherited a pizzeria in London from their father. “They know the front of the house, but not the kitchen,” he says. “I have to explain how hard their father and grandfather worked to create this legacy. I get them to love pizza again.” CBS offered some suggestions, and Jamie Mitchell, the show’s new producer-director, flew from Hollywood to London last month to reshoot the pilot. “Initially, we thought we might have Dino act like more of a kick-down-the-door kind of guy,” says Mitchell. “But Dino’s a sweetheart. He’s a sexier Emeril Lagasse. Women in L.A. loved him!”

At 53, Ciccone, a jeans and T-shirt type who sports a goatee, is a youthful bear of a man. He was born in Argentina to Italian parents and raised in London, where he delivered pizzas in high school for East Town Pizza. His parents have always made cheese, sausages and wine at home. “They didn’t have a restaurant but they taught me how to cook,” says Ciccone, whose specialty is thin-crust pizza with unusual toppings, like hemp and bitter green salad. “It was like I was living the Food Network at home.” So after a short stint as a London bus driver in the ’80s (“bad back, a few accidents”), and two years in the Canadian air force, Ciccone found his way back to food. In 1990, he bought East Town Pizza with his brother and brother-in-law, and things blew up for him in 1995 when he won the award for Best Pizza in Canada. The following year, he won the “World’s Best Pizza” title. “My secret to winning is simple,” says Ciccone. “I’m very spiritual about pizza. When I make it, I make it like Jesus would be sitting down and eating it with me. Sometimes it takes me three hours to make a competition pizza.”

But with 20-plus pizza titles under his belt, Ciccone sold his share of the business in 2004 to consult for other pizza joints and to spend more time pursuing his interest in a TV career. “He’s definitely a character,” says Diana Coutu, herself an international award-winning pizzaiolo in Winnipeg. “If you saw him in a dark alley, you’d be intimidated, but he’s just a bit rough around the edges. His TV show will polarize people. Some will root for him and some will not appreciate his suggestions, or his success. There will be jealousy.”

London’s Big City Diner, which houses Ciccone’s trophies, acts as the home base in the pilot. It’s clear from just a quick tour of the diner with him that he’s a natural for TV. If the series gets green-lit—Ciccone should know by late March—cameras will follow him as he visits pizzerias throughout North America, but not every show will be a makeover. The Pizza Rider, he says, is about more than just a guy who swoops down and fixes the menu of struggling pizza joints. Some shows will feature cook-offs with fellow pizza experts. Others will include travelogue footage of Ciccone tracking the history of the pizza pie from China and Italy to North America. To top it off, says Mitchell, “Dino isn’t a jerk like Gordon Ramsay, with all that yelling.”

As for Ciccone’s main ride, he designed it himself and had it custom built in nearby St. Thomas, Ont. It’s a 10½-foot beast of a machine with wrap-around fenders, and no suspension. The hand-tooled leather seat reads “Pizza Dude.” The tail light, when lit, reads “Mamma Mia” in cursive script. “The bikes will be like wardrobe, the bling,” he says. “I want people who watch to say, ‘Wow, I wish I was Pizza Rider, on a cool bike, on the open road, eating great pizza. What could be better than that?’ ”

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