It’s not every day that you get to sit down with one of the most talented pizzamakers in America, so chatting with Kevin “Cubby” Konn was a special moment. Calling in from his cellphone, Kevin was laid back, feverishly passionate, and effortlessly cool—the kind of guy you’d happily share a six-pack and a few slices with any day of the week.
It didn’t take long for Kevin to namedrop everyone’s favorite maverick chef Anthony Bourdain, and it’s easy to see the comparison. “I dropped out of college and went to culinary school. At the time, I was reading Kitchen Confidential. I wanted to be one of those pirate chefs,” he says, grinning, before explaining, “in culinary school, you have to take an internship, and I went to work at a place that made Neapolitan pizza… and I just got hooked.”
I like the idea of automating pizza, especially taking on tasks of positions that are in demand but no one wants to fill. If you’re not gonna fill the job with a human, find a way to fill it with automation.”
Kevin went on to travel across Italy and undertook training in Rome and Naples. “I learned technique from the masters of pizza,” he says with an assuring and respectful nod. “I worked for the owners and pizza makers who really cared about the science, mathematics, and biology of fermentation. Everything I do now is completely driven by biology and math. I’m a pizza geek!” he says with a healthy slice of laughter and enthusiasm.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Kevin now consults different pizza restaurants on everything there is to know about running a successful pizza business. From advising on hydration ratios to food costing, Kevin prides himself on utilizing his extensive experience in all aspects of pizza to help others scale and grow.
And that’s not all. Kevin is also launching a new cooking school in Atlanta, working with a celebrity chef to co-launch The American Academy of Pizza Making. Currently undergoing renovations, the academy will offer classes for beginners and advanced students. All classes will be module-based, where students can learn Kevin’s tried and tested formulas for making different types of pizza, alongside accessing training on FOH, BOH, bartending, and chef skills to help attendees get a holistic experience in running a pizza business.
Not content with running a one-man pizza consulting business and launching a cooking academy, Kevin is also building an app. “It’s taken me 20 years to get to this point. With the software, it’s going to take people 20 minutes,” he says, referring to the skills and knowledge he’ll be sharing when the app eventually launches.
“Technology has changed the game for me,” he says. “I went from 100% Neapolitan wood-fired oven to three-deck electric, Italian ovens that are all digital. Baking is all about the control of energy. Dough is energy, heat is energy… so if I’m trying to control energy with wood, I’m going to have less success and less control than pressing a digital button.”
Kevin is quick to point out that he has a “huge respect for the old-school way” but is passionate about using electric mixers and ovens, not to mention creating his own trailblazing pizza technology with the upcoming app. “At some point on my app, you’re gonna be able to take a picture of a pizza, and using facial recognition, it’s gonna identify what they think that pizza is based on formulas and percentages. You can't do that without technology.”
Does this modern approach get pushback from the industry? He hesitates before saying, “Maybe a few years ago… but now I see everybody adopting electricity for heat. Getting a woodfire brick oven in America means jumping through so many hoops just to get a meeting with an inspector. Nobody is doing it anymore.”
Kevin ties the modernization of the pizzeria with the decline in people rejoining the workforce after the pandemic. “Every one of my friends that owns a pizzeria is making more pizzas than they should right now because nobody wants to work. They're having trouble finding people, and when they do, people are expecting a lot of money for not doing too much.
“I think that if they don't wanna work, then replace 'em with something that can do the work. Maybe five or ten years ago, I was all about the art and craft before getting into the more technical parts of pizza. I was totally old-school, but now, there needs to be some sort of technology automation to keep up. Every other part of the industry is doing it,” he says.
This is exactly why the Picnic Pizza Station caught Kevin’s eye at Pizza Expo ‘22. “I saw the robot pizza maker and was like, ‘oh my God, they created pizza Terminator, this is the coolest thing ever,” he says, laughing. “I just kept on coming back. I thought it was that awesome.
Kevin is more than upbeat about the future of pizza. “You’re always going to have your mom-and-pop shops and the Italian pizza makers. But I like the idea that automation bridges the gap. Sometimes people want pizza, and they want something that’ll come out quickly and the exact same way every time.
People who own these [Picnic Pizza Station] can focus more on customer service, marketing, and keeping a closer eye on different trends. If you’re in the back slinging pies all night, you’re not gonna have a birds-eye view of your operation.”
Kevin’s vision for the future of pizzerias is that eventually, “you can have a fully automated pizzeria kitchen that’s gonna pump out pizzas, and do you know what? People are gonna be none the wiser…. The whole dynamic of the restaurant and food service and hospitality industry has changed completely post-pandemic. And I don't think it's gonna go back to the way it was and I don't think it should.”
If there’s one guy to take pizza advice from, it’s Kevin. We’re booking a flight to Rome and re-reading Kitchen Confidential as we speak.