“We’re cranking out 60,000 pizzas a month”: Piano Piano chef Victor Barry on his plans for worldwide frozen pizza domination

“We’re cranking out 60,000 pizzas a month”: Piano Piano chef Victor Barry on his plans for worldwide frozen pizza domination

Barry is now the proud owner of General Assembly’s line of frozen pies

Italian comfort food king Victor Barry already had a line of frozen pizzas. So, when we heard that the Piano Piano owner had swooped in to buy General Assembly’s ailing line of frozen pies (which had racked up $3 million in senior debt obligations), we were curious as to why. When corporate giants like Nestlé want out of the frozen food business, why does Barry want in? He told us about the purchase, his big plans and his favourite frozen pizza product.

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You’ve been in the frozen pizza game for a while now. When did Piano Piano dip its toe into that world?
The pandemic—we started in July 2020. Originally, we were only selling our frozen pizzas at Cheese Boutique and Bruno’s Fine Foods, and our production capabilities were limited by our space: we were working out of Piano Piano’s Harbord Street location, making about 30 to 50 pizzas a day. Last summer, we moved into a commissary kitchen in Regent Park, which allowed us to increase our output to 1,500 pizzas a day. But, in order to grow even more, we needed to level up again.

What’s the secret to a good frozen pie?
The quality of ingredients. That’s where it starts. We buy the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, like Australian mozzarella, fior di latte from Quality Cheese, San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, and pepperoni from Venetian Meats in Hamilton and Ezzo in Ohio.

How would you describe the difference between a Piano Piano frozen pizza and a General Assembly frozen pizza?
Piano Piano is more of a “staying in with friends on a Saturday night” pizza while General Assembly is your “get the kids dinner on a Wednesday night” pie. By that, I mean Piano Piano pizzas are for the aficionado who wants restaurant-quality pizza at home. Our customers know that the value is there, and they understand that they’re getting so much for just $2 or $3 more. General Assembly is what we call mass-premium pizza—meaning their specialty is fun and simplicity without sacrificing quality.

Did you approach GA or vice versa?
Back in February 2022, General Assembly approached me with a business proposition: they would make Piano Piano frozen pizzas for us in their facility. We weren’t interested. But, soon after that, when GA found themselves in a financial predicament—they had senior debt obligations that needed to be satisfied—they reached out again to see if we were interested in acquiring the business. We still weren’t interested. But then negotiations picked back up when both companies realized that we were stronger together, as a combined business.

What was the rationale behind buying GA’s line of frozen pies?
It made a lot of sense: they had the facility and the logistics that would allow us to become a national brand rather than a boutique Toronto product. Plus, I have decades of experience as a chef, so with my know-how in deliciousness, we’re just going to keep making both lines better and better.

Do you worry that the two brands may cannibalize each other?
Not at all. Like I said, they’re different pizzas for different occasions. We’re trying to build a new premium pizza market in the frozen aisle. It’s the antithesis to what you’re seeing with the big brands, where it’s a race to the bottom in terms of losing quality for the sake of a low price. What we’re offering is restaurant-quality pizza that’s ready at home in less than 10 minutes.

GA launched a subscription model in 2021. Are you planning to keep it?
Folks love it, so it’s definitely staying. In fact, we’ll be adding Piano Piano pizzas later this year, as well as a bunch of other products, like frozen baked pasta, pasta kits, caesar salad kits and desserts.

Is the purchase price public?
It was $1.75 million, although no money changed hands—some Piano Piano equity was issued. And no, it didn’t come with $3 million in debt. A lot of people misunderstood the details of the purchase when the initial news articles came out. While we will be assuming some liabilities, like rent payments and equipment leases, nothing unexpected came about during the due diligence period.

GA’s frozen pizza line was not proving profitable in a post-pandemic landscape, which contributed to some of that aforementioned debt. How do you plan to turn things around?
GA’s frozen pizza sales were on the upswing before we acquired the business. You can now buy General Assembly in large national grocery stores like Loblaws, Sobeys and Whole Foods. Acquiring General Assembly will allow us to bring restaurant-quality pizza coast to coast, to places that aren’t big cities—places where people can’t go out to a great pizzeria on a whim.

What are your next steps?
Worldwide pizza domination, baby!

Wait, are you planning on becoming the Canadian Dr. Oetker?
Ha! Never. I’m not interested in buying any more frozen pizza lines…at the moment. Right now, I just want to grow this one. Once GA and Piano Piano are fully integrated, we’ll be looking to grow 10 per cent month over month. Right now, we’re cranking out 60,000 pizzas a month—that means we’re aiming to make and sell 66,000 in June and 72,600 in July.

Speaking of Dr. Oetker: What’s the best big-brand frozen pizza out there?
Pillsbury Pizza Pops. Those things are delicious.

Lastly, a controversial note to end on: pineapple on pizza, yes or no?
Hell yes! It isn’t in our lineup, but we’ll likely make it on a limited run for subscribers.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.