Neapolitan Pizza Restaurant In Malaysia

Much like BentukBentuk, whose founders came from an IT background and now run a successful interior design business, Ikmal has a similar story.

Coming from a ten-year career in the computer industry, Ikmal has acquired the precise art of making Neapolitan pizzas for his wife in a wood-burning oven that he built himself.

The wood-fired pizza industry in Malaysia isn’t new, but Ikmal told Vulcan Post that the Neapolitan pizza industry was when he launched WOP Pizzerria 5 years ago.

But before becoming the version sold today, its pizzas have gone through a few evolutions.

Make the dough

Ikmal has always had a passion for authentic food, with a main goal of preparing them from scratch.

In his first year of business, Ikmal told Vulcan Post that the pizzas he was selling were in fact similar to those already in the commercial market. Think of Pizza Hut and Dominos, but cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Its pizzas quickly became popular as customers were charmed by its homemade element.

The first development WOP experienced happened accidentally, when Ikmal refrigerated the dough longer than usual.

After baking, its crust came out with burnt spots, which received mixed reactions from customers. While a cohort of clients appreciated his improvements, others didn’t like him and never returned.

“It was a learning experience for us and our customers. We explained a lot to customers and had to manage the expectations of newcomers, ”he said.

Ikmal handcraft every ingredient that goes into the pizza / Image Credit: WOP Pizzeria

Over time, he learned to make Neapolitan pizzas with sourdough that had a crust between a crunchy and chewy texture.

He learned that to get that perfect crust, the dough had to be fermented for 48-72 hours before being baked in an oven at a temperature of 430 to 480 ° C.

Since sourdough pizza is also wetter than other types of dough, it required a soft but strong hand to manage its stretch.

It would then be balanced with hand-crushed San Marzano sweet tomatoes and the acidity of fresh buffalo mozzarella before being baked for 2 minutes.

“Every pizza that comes out of the oven is my work of art combined with many years of hard work,” Ikmal rang.

This self-taught pizza connoisseur has since made 200,000 pizzas to date without training, although the biggest cost factor has been all the mistakes made along the way resulting in the rejection of dough, mozzarella, etc.

Light up

When I heard that Ikmal made his pizzas in a self-built oven, I thought he was just very particular about everything that went into his pizzas – or even what his pizzas went into.

But there is also a more practical reason behind this. He built them himself because he just couldn’t afford to buy locally made wood-fired ovens that would cost at least RM25,000.

So, he researched and built an oven on a trailer that was pulled by his car, allowing them to move their operations.

He set up tables and chairs for customers to dine outside of his home / Image Credit: WOP Pizzeria

They’ve gone from selling at weekend culinary events to setting up tables and chairs outside his family’s home. Later he rented a little corner in a restaurant and opened his first pizzeria in Shah Alam.

To date, he has built a total of six wood-fired ovens, each increasing in size to accommodate more pizzas at a time.

Rekindle the flames

Self-built oven can hold up to 4 pizzas at a time / Image credit: WOP Pizzeria

In May of this year, Ikmal had to close his Shah Alam store due to the AGC. Because the pizzas were better right out of the oven, despite the offer of deliveries, WOP had to deal with an 80% drop in sales.

But an unexpected turn of events occurred when one of their fans, who happened to be SOCAR CEO Leon Foong, decided to partner with the brand.

From there, the newly registered company bought most of the assets of its old restaurant and moved to Plaza Damas in Sri Hartamas. Now, with sufficient funding, Ikmal was able to buy a wood-fired oven in Naples.

“Building the oven myself is a lot of fun, but the oven made by Gianni Acunto is much better,” he says.

In light of this new partnership, Ikmal hopes to attract more regular customers and eventually organize masterclasses to teach others the craft of pizza and cheese making.

And due to his obsession with the ingredients on the WOP menu himself, he’s also looking forward to starting his own charcuterie (French for a charcuterie store) very soon.

  • You can read more about WOP Pizzeria here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Ikmal, Founder of WOP Pizzeria

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Jothi Venkat

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