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Fino Piza Co-Founder JJ Phun On The Wonders Of Wood-Fired ‘Pizas’ & Mixing Business With Friendship

If there’s anything that of hours of fighting in Monopoly has taught us, it’s to never get family and friends involved in business. You see it time and time again on TV shows (*cough* Kitchen Nightmares *cough*), movies and in real-life business stories. It just doesn’t end well. But every now and then, there are a select few who challenge that notion, proving to be an exception to that rule.

In this feature, we meet a band of brothers who believe that gourmet should be a reflection of passion and not just a hefty price tag through their family-style pizza business.

Founded on the shared dream of three good friends to bring top tier quality food to the masses, FINO PIZA was developed by Malaysian for Malaysians with the hopes to better the nation in the best way they could do it—handcrafted artisanal pizzas baked over a wood fire!

“It’s not about what you eat, but who you eat with. PIZAs just happen to make great company,” quotes co-owner JJ Phun.

Taking ownership of wood-fired pizzas done right, they’ve made it their mission to create joyful dining experiences at their restaurants through unpretentious and no-frills pizas.

And no, that’s not a misspelling on anyone’s part. They make P-I-Z-As, not P-I-Z-Z-As.

“We joke internally about saving the ‘Z’s,” jokingly quips JJ. “We felt like spelling it with multiple ‘Z’s was an extravagance and quite redundant, and wanted the focus to be on the Piza!”

Together with his partners, the Johor-born entrepreneur worked to create a household brand from their shared experiences, talents and strengths to bring something different to the table, amalgamating in a lasting and working relationship. All thanks to a perfect chance.

“We all met over a possibility.”

“Jet and I are friends, and he’s in the design-and-build business. I met Shaufi after experiencing his wonderful cooking skills way back before he left for Singapore when he was already a restaurateur in TTDI while I was running my own establishments,” confesses JJ.

Heralded as one of Malaysia’s youngest and brightest pizza chefs, Chef Shaufi has experienced the pizza culture of Italy first-hand, with years of experience under his belt developing his skills under the tutelage of Celebrity Chef Mario Batali at Marina Bay Sands Singapore’s Pizzeria.

“Since then, the thought of working together has always been on my mind. So one day, we just decided that we were gonna start a Handcrafted Wood-fired Piza restaurant called Fino Piza.”

And in making ‘pizas’ done right, JJ and his partners knew they had to ensure they created pizza masterpieces that would make them stand out from more commercialized pizza dens. Staying true to Chef Shaufi’s culinary roots, the trio decided upon the use of a classic wood-fired oven to give them exactly the competitive edge they needed.

“It provided the right high temperature and enclosure to get that perfect dough texture and smokiness from the wood we use, giving that nice finishing touch of (im)perfections found in beautiful light charring and the caramelization of mozzarella cheese and flavours; A true authentic Piza experience,” gushes JJ about the delicious details.

But it isn’t just about having a good product. Any business owner knows that what it really comes down to is the relationships one builds with their customers. Because where would they be without their loyal following. From TTDI to Subang, JJ and his partners always strive to create a strong connection with their patrons to foster a family-like community with their outlets.

“We’re building a long-term relationship and experience with our customers by creating a place where they can feel at home at all the time. The kind of place a friend refers to as “my pizza place.” says the pizza-preneur.

“We try our best to listen and cater to our customers in a hyper-localized environment, yet maintaining the core of the products we produce and the service we provide, always from the bottom of our hearts.”

With three outlets under their belts, the trio have high hopes to open their next home-away-from-home in the near future and more happy days to come with their growing ‘piza’ community. Armoured with passion, drive and commitment, JJ and his fellow founders seem to have found the perfect recipe to starting a business with your good friends and the importance of having a working shared dream.

“You can’t be dependent on other people to make your business successful. Focus on training and developing the people you work with. It is also a capital intensive set up so make sure you manage finances well.”

“But with that said, I’m really grateful for the family of reliable and trustworthy people we’ve built over the years. We learn from each other and we grow together as the heads of the Fino Family.”

Penny For Your Thought

How would you define a “good life” and/versus a “successful life”?

For me, a good life is a successful life.

What is the bravest thing you have ever done?

Opening a 2nd and 3rd Fino Piza outlet.

Advice you would give your younger self?

Be patient and focused. Deal with one task at a time. Stay on the right path, and don’t take the easier road.

What was a question you would’ve liked me to ask, but would like me to ask the next interviewee?

Ask the next person; “What is a skill that he/she has that nobody knows about?”


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