Similar to BentukBentuk, whose founders came from the IT sector and now run a successful home decor business, Ikmal has a similar story.
After a ten-year career in the IT industry, Ikmal learned the precise art of making Neapolitan pizzas for his wife in a wood oven he built himself.
The wood-fired pizza industry in Malaysia is not new, but Ikmal told Vulcan Post that it was the Neapolitan pizza when he first started WOP Pizzerria 5 years ago.
But before they became the version sold today, its pizzas went through some evolutions.
Make the dough
Ikmal has always had a passion for authentic food, with an emphasis on preparing it from the ground up.
During the first year of his business, Ikmal explained to Vulcan Post that the pizzas he was selling were in fact similar to those that were already available in the commercial market. Think Pizza Hut and Dominos, but baked in a wood oven.
His pizzas quickly became popular when customers were delighted with their homemade item.
The first evolution that WOP went through happened by accident when Ikmal chilled the dough longer than usual.
After baking, its crust came out with some burned spots which got mixed reactions from customers. While one group of customers appreciated the improvements, others didn’t like it and never came back.
“It was a learning experience for us and our customers. We explained a lot to customers and had to meet expectations for new customers, ”he said.
Ikmal makes every ingredient on the pizza by hand. Image Credit: WOP Pizzeria
Over time, he learned to make Neapolitan pizzas with sourdough, which had a crust between a crispy and a chewy texture.
He learned that the dough had to be fermented for 48-72 hours to get the perfect crust before being baked in an oven with a temperature between 430-480 ° C.
Since sourdough pizza is also wetter than other types of dough, a gentle but strong hand was required to handle the stretching.
It is then balanced with sweet hand-pressed San Marzano tomatoes and the acidity of fresh buffalo mozzarella before being baked in the oven for 90 seconds.
“Every pizza that comes out of the oven is my work of art combined with years of hard work,” suggested Ikmal.
This self-taught pizza connoisseur has made 200,000 pizzas without training since then, although the biggest cost factor was any mistakes made along the way that resulted in dough, mozzarella, etc. being thrown away.
Light it up
When I heard that Ikmal was making his pizzas in a homemade oven, I thought he was just very specific about everything that went in his pizzas – or what his pizzas even went.
But there is also a more practical reason for this. He built them himself because he simply couldn’t afford to buy locally made wood stoves that would cost at least RM 25,000.
So he did the research and built an oven on a trailer that was pulled by his car so they could move their operations around.
He set up tables and chairs for the guests to dine in front of his house. Photo credit: WOP Pizzeria
They evolved from selling at weekend food events to setting up tables and chairs in front of his family’s home. He later rented a small corner in a restaurant and opened his first pizzeria in Shah Alam.
To date, he has built a total of six wood-burning ovens, each of which is getting bigger to accommodate more pizzas at the same time.
Reignite the flames
The self-made oven offers space for up to 4 pizzas at the same time / Photo credit: WOP Pizzeria
In May of this year Ikmal had to close its Shah Alam branch because of the MCO. Since the pizzas were best fresh out of the oven, even though they offered deliveries, WOP had to accept an 80% drop in sales.
An unexpected turn came when one of their fans, who happened to be CEO of SOCAR, Leon Foong, decided to partner with the brand.
From then on, the newly registered company bought most of the assets from its old restaurant and moved to Plaza Damas in Sri Hartamas. Now Ikmal was able to buy a wood stove from Naples with sufficient funding.
“Building the oven yourself is a lot of fun, but the one professionally built by Gianni Acunto is much better,” he said.
With this new partnership, Ikmal hopes to attract more regular customers and eventually hold masterclasses to teach others the craft of making pizza and cheese.
And because he’s obsessed with ingredients on the WOP menu himself, he’s looking forward to opening his own sausage (French for a cold meat shop) soon.
- You can find out more about the WOP Pizzeria here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Selected image source: Ikmal, founder of WOP Pizzeria