Meet Holy Napoli founder Francesca Galasso

After noticing a gap in the market, Francesca Galasso launched a premium frozen pizza line that’s now available in grocery stores coast-to-coast
Francesca Galasso
Francesca Galasso. Photography by Lucas Finlay

In 2014, Francesca Galasso was ready for a change. She was working as a public health research assistant at the University of British Columbia but kept thinking back to her time working the front-of-house at restaurants while in school. “I kind of fell in love with restaurants that way,” she says. “It really attracted me to hospitality.” 

One day, Galasso was passing by a shop that was up for lease in the North Vancouver neighbourhood where she lived. “I saw it, and it just spoke to me,” she recalls. Galasso left her job and opened a wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzeria that she called Il Castello, which quickly became a local favourite. “It was a really cute neighbourhood pizza spot that was community-oriented,” says Galasso. “We had a ton of regulars.”

As the years went on, those regulars began asking Galasso whether they could purchase balls of dough to make their own pizzas at home. Galasso began selling frozen dough to customers from her restaurant and, shortly afterwards, a local deli asked to stock her pizza dough. That got Galasso thinking. “It wasn’t just customers buying [dough] at the restaurant now,” she says.

Galasso did some research at nearby grocery stores and noticed a gap in the market for both pizza dough and frozen pizzas. “Frozen pizzas get a bad rap,” she says. The entrepreneur envisioned creating premium, restaurant-quality frozen pizza that would be an easy dinner option, especially for millennials that were short on time. “I thought, ‘this is ripe for innovation.’”

From late 2016 to early 2017, Galasso worked on putting together a business plan. With the help of Vancouver creative agency Spring Advertising, she developed simple, modern packaging and branding for her new frozen pizza line, which she called Holy Napoli. The dough would be slow fermented in small batches using 00 flour, the crusts would be baked in a stone oven, and pizzas would be topped with premium ingredients like San Marzano tomato sauce and hand-picked basil. Holy Napoli launched with three varieties based on the bestsellers at Il Castello: a Margherita, the Calabrese and Pesto Roast Vegetable, along with the frozen pizza dough that started it all.

Early testing and trials happened at Il Castello, but Galasso soon realized her production capacity would be limited in the restaurant. “It was a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario,” Galasso says. “Do you get the sales first or do you get your capacity lined up first?” She took a leap of faith and took the latter option and rented out a production facility in Port Coquitlam in the spring of 2017.

That leap of faith paid off. By early 2019, Holy Napoli was in about 100 specialty and independent grocery stores, mostly in British Columbia, with a handful in Alberta. The growth of the grocery line prompted Galasso to sell her North Vancouver pizzeria and focus her efforts on growing the wholesale and CPG business.

It was around the start of the pandemic, in spring 2020, that Holy Napoli ventured beyond Western Canada, launching in about 50 independent stores in Ontario. Without in-store demos and promotions, Holy Napoli had to rely on the strength of its branding to gain customer attention. Thankfully, it worked. “People tell us all the time: ‘Your packaging is fantastic ...It stands out,’” Galasso says. “For a lot of people, the only indirect interaction they ever have with your brand is the packaging. I think that’s a big differentiator for us.”

Over the last two years, Holy Napoli experienced a huge period of growth. The brand launched in Thrifty Foods and Safeway stores in British Columbia, Metro stores in Quebec, Whole Foods Market stores in British Columbia and Ontario, and the market division of Loblaws nationally. Recognizing the potential to scale up her business, Galasso also brought on Toronto-based Bond Bakery Brands as an investor during this period. Holy Napoli products can now be found in more than 800 grocery stores coast-to-coast, including the Yukon.

This year, Galasso is focusing on increasing the company’s presence and sales within the stores that currently stock Holy Napoli products. “Demos are coming back to life,” she says. “There’s a real opportunity to drive more trial and get people to give our product a try.” 

Looking back at her journey, Galasso feels humbled by how the business has grown. “It’s quite surreal,” says the entrepreneur, that a product she created “could be eaten by someone in front of me or by someone across the country, which is pretty cool.”

This article was first featured in Canadian Grocer’s February 2023 issue.

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