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The moment he heard the sickening crunch, Marcelo Rossano knew his livelihood was gone.
Parked outside a Wynwood art gallery, the pizzamaker had cooked pies out of his vintage camper all evening. He closed his shop, Rossano’s Pizza, around 10:30 p.m., and had just turned out of his parking space when he spotted the sedan’s fast-approaching headlights.
He swerved his pickup truck. Too late. Then dead silence.
Rossano tightened his grip on the steering wheel, closed his eyes, bowed his head for four consecutive minutes. People rushed out of the art gallery.
He wasn’t hurt, but the impact was devastating.
After losing his restaurant job like so many in the pandemic, Rossano had found his Plan B. He’d spent six months refurbishing the broken shell of a vintage U-haul camper into Rossano’s Pizza, his now-thriving food truck. Momentum was building fast in the Delray Beach community, where customers at food-truck events showered praise for his Neapolitan-style pies fired at 950 degrees with 48-hour fermented dough. He’d sold 60 pizzas the day before.
Now his pizza camper lay on its side, totaled, wiring and kitchen equipment spilling out of the undercarriage like runny burrata. He says a drunk driver’s newer-model Camry had rammed him somewhere between the front of the camper and the back of his pickup.
“I knew instinctively that it was all gone,” Rossano recalls of the April 17 crash. “I didn’t know what to do with my life at that moment. My livelihood was lying in the middle of the street.”
What Rossano didn’t know, at the time, was how strongly the Delray Beach community would rally around him.
Mozzarella ball on two wheels
Delray Beach customers loved to describe Rossano’s Pizza’s oddly shaped food truck as a mozzarella ball on two wheels.
It certainly resembled one: At nine feet long (13, if you counted the trailer hitch), the 1980s camper was sheathed in white-marble vinyl wrap, with a charming white-and-blue-striped awning over the order window. Murals of Mount Vesuvius and late soccer legend Diego Maradona, adopted son of Naples, decorated the sides. To Rossano, it was a rolling tribute to his half-Italian heritage.
“It was everything related to Naples. I was a purist about that,” says Rossano, 45, who is half-Uruguayan and emigrated from Montevideo in 1999. “As a kid my Italian grandparents spoke Spanish and they only spoke Italian when they didn’t want me to know what they said. I had no idea pizza was going to be my thing but I knew I had to celebrate them.”
Pizza turned out to be Rossano’s second chance.
As South Florida hurtled into pandemic lockdowns, the Atlantic Avenue restaurant veteran (Tramonti, Che!, Casa L’Acqua Ristorante Italiano) lost his job as general manager of the now-closed Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante. So did his wife, Sharon Cherry, vice president of marketing for a company representing cruise lines and luxury brands.
“We were opportunistic but also really insecure,” says Cherry, 48, who lives with Rossano in Delray Beach with their 3-year-old daughter, Romina. “Restaurant jobs weren’t growing on trees and we didn’t know what was going to happen in the future.”
Investing a chunk of their life savings, Rossano and Cherry bought the camper in Jupiter last May and towed it to their Delray Beach home. Over the next six months Rossano, who is handy but not a handyman, welded it together, repainted and installed two pizza ovens.
“It was a really stressful time,” Rossano says, wiping away tears, describing months of work stoppages that threatened to disrupt his dream. “Even though I paid a builder upfront to do physical labor, I got screwed and ended up doing most of it myself.”
Late last fall, Cherry was “knocking on doors around the neighborhood with a flier and mask and gloves,” she recalls. “I was handing out free pizzas and saying, ‘Would you like to try it? We have a new food-truck business coming!’ “
Three months after launching in December, Rossano’s Pizza had a food-truck schedule, serving pies every Tuesday and Wednesday at Saltwater Brewery, Thursdays through Saturdays at the Angel Street Station antique store on North Federal Highway, and Sundays at craft-beer store Hopportunities.
“Customers came up to Marcelo and said it reminded them of real Napoli pizza,” Cherry says. “Of course Marcelo would never admit that, because he’s humble. But some people were literally calling and saying, ‘The pizza didn’t make it home because I ate it in the car.’ “
One month later, it was all over.
After the crash Rossano realized customers were still counting on his pizza camper’s appearance that weekend, so he broke the news in a Facebook food group called Socially Distanced Supper Club: “The Rossano’s vintage pizza camper was hit by a drunk driver in Miami after our Wynwood event last night,” he wrote. “Our still young, new business built with love, vision, dedication and the glue that was holding our family together after the financial adversity of Covid, all gone in a second.”
What happened next shocked the couple.
“Some people tagged me in [Marcelo’s] post, and that picture of his destroyed camper rocked me,” recalls John Brewer, who runs the Facebook group and promotes local restaurants there. “He’s such a modest man who wants to make people happy with pizza, and members were asking, ‘What are you going to do about this, John?’ “
Facebook comments poured in. “Oh my! I just cannot believe how great your pizza was!!!! Just the other day, my friend introduced us to your pizza truck parked outside of Saltwater Brewery,” one commenter wrote. “So sorry this happened! I can’t wait for the comeback,” wrote another.
By week’s end: $10,000. Today: Over $12,500.
“I couldn’t believe the community would wrap their arms around us the way they did,” Rossano says.
Rossano’s new pizza food truck doesn’t look much like a mozzarella ball.
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At 22 feet long, his Airstream Argosy is more trailer than camper, resembling a rusted silver bullet. With proceeds from the GoFundMe Rossano picked up the trailer from a seller in Orlando on May 4.
“This is the first time Marcelo’s genuinely smiled with joy and relief since it happened,” Cherry says. “We have a new home.”
Over the next several months Rossano plans to transform this trailer, from scratch, from a broken shell into Rossano’s Pizza 2.0. The Diego Maradona and Mount Vesuvius murals will return, along with upgraded pizza ovens, and something extra.
“A big word will be written on the side of the truck, maybe ‘Community,’ because of all the support,” Rossano says. “The people here, they rewrote my future.”
Already fans have reached out to help Rossano reconstruct the pizzeria, and local restaurants want him to cook pizza at pop-up events. Anything to help distract from the daunting months of construction work ahead, Rossano says, will make him happy.
“And it makes the pizza community happy,” he says. “The grief will be gone when I’m cooking in my pizza trailer again.”