Shelly Forté is a surprise addition to our #lentenlovenotes series. Nominated by her husband, we were absolutely touched by his description of his wife as a passionate, creative, and hardworking woman in Baton Rouge. We reach out and asked her a few questions about owning Dat'z Italian in Walker, Louisiana.
MHS: How were you inspired to make the transition to start your own culinary business?
SF: My husband (Joe Forté) was my inspiration. His dream of owning a mobile wood-fired pizza business and vending at local fairs, festivals, events coupled with my love of cooking to allow us to work together while having fun at the same time turned into a full time job in itself. His dream became our dream and eventually a reality to share our heritage and love of pizza with our community.
MHS: What gets you most excited about your work?
SF: The ability to be creative in crafting unique pizzas that taste amazing makes me super excited. There are unlimited creations to be had in crafting pizzas, and knowing that the very art of your craft is loved by your community too, makes it that more exciting and worth the hard work that has been developed.
MHS: What has really helped you grow your business?
SF: My determination and love of cooking with fresh, natural, organic, and high quality ingredients. The relationships we've made since growing the business have also helped like The Hammond Farmers Market which gave us our first opportunity to become a regular vendor at their market and the organizers of the many festivals such as Sicilian, Gretna, and Blues Festival that we have become part of for the past few years. These Festivals and other community events have allowed us to put our product out there for people to experience our unique and traditional wood-fired pizzas. Although not open yet, there has been much anticipation of the opening of the White Star Market (Gourmet Food Hall) where we will have our first permanent location called Dat’z Italian @ White Star. It will be located in Mid City on Govt. St. in Baton Rouge by Spring of this year. Most importantly, our loyal customers who have followed and supported our mobile pizzeria over the years.
MHS: Talk about your business relationship with private events?
SF: I’m honored to share my love of the art and craft of wood-fired pizzas with my customers. Weddings and rehearsal dinners are especially exciting for me since I get to offer other dishes and desserts for them to try. To see the look on the bride and grooms face is priceless. To have guests come to me and tell me that they didn’t know pizza could be so delicious and displayed so beautifully warms my heart. It makes me happy to bring a little piece of Italy to them and their guests.
MHS: What’s your favorite thing to cook for yourself?
SF: That’s easy, pizza! My go to pizza is Dat’z a Greek. It’s light, fresh, satisfying, and delicious. I love to cook. I love that if you can imagine it, you can create it, and that is basically what I have had the pleasure of doing for myself and others with Dat'z Italian.
MHS: What kind of food have you been thinking about experimenting with/adding to your menu?
SF: Nduja (doo-yah) is a particularly spicy, spreadable pork salami from Italy. This is something I want to incorporate into a pizza, as well as some type of appetizer. It’s got all the things that I love: that sour, fermented flavor of salami, the fattiness. It’s tangy, gamey, and spreadable. Nduja embodies all these elements, and I love that I can create something special, bold and delicious with it.
MHS: What’s your ultimate goal with your business?
SF: My ultimate goal is to open a permanent location so that our followers, existing customers and first timers can come eat with us and see us any time they want – not just when we are vending within their area. I'm also happy to continue to grow and work with my husband and build our dream together of sharing our love of pizza, family, and our heritage with our community.
Good luck with the new location, Shelly!