Pizza 4P’s Co-Founder Sanae’s Story So Far Of Their Quest For Peace Through Pizza

Yosuke and Sanae Masuko in Xuan Thuy Kitchen

It’s rare but reassuring. Seeing a restaurant grow into a 26-store brand, with production centers, wholesale, retail, a coffee shop, and an international outlet, while doubling down on, and not diluting, its vision. For 4P’s it’s making the world smile for peace. Through pizza. And over ten years since they opened, coming through the travails of the pandemic, few would doubt Pizza 4P’s chances of achieving it. 

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

Sanae Masuko, who co-founded Pizza 4P’s with her husband Yosuke Masuko, remembers those early days well, when the first Pizza 4P’s opened in 2011. Back then they lived in a small room with their young daughter above the restaurant. And some nights, after a grueling 16-hour shift, she couldn’t even make it back up the stairs to bed. “One night I was so exhausted I fell asleep halfway up the stairs,” Sanae recalls, “and Masuko found me there and had to sweep me up and get me to bed.”

They were so caught up in the intensity of daily operations there wasn’t much time for dreaming. “We couldn’t have even imagined a second store back then, never mind all this,” Sanae says looking around at their Xuan Thuy restaurant. There’s a stack of pizzas ready to go out for delivery. Guests are arriving to take seats on the first floor. And in the back a class of school kids are making their own pizzas in a space with its own oven. And it’s only 5pm.  

urban farming thao dien
Pizza 4P’s Xuan Thuy embraces urban farming in their design-conscious District 2 restaurant.

Gradually, as operations became a manageable routine, they began imagining a career path for the staff they referred to as partners (and still do). That meant opening more restaurants. But even back then, sustainability was a core pillar for the growth of Pizza 4P’s. “Any business which looks to the future needs to be sustainable,” Sanae says, “and we look at this as a long-term plan – we want Pizza 4P’s to be doing this 50 or 100 years from now. We have to find a sustainable way to do things, regardless of corporate strategy.”

“People like our Area Manager Hien Le are a good example of the career path the growth of Pizza 4P’s offered” Sanae tells us. Hien joined as a Service Assistant Manager four years ago. In a year she became Restaurant Manager. And now she oversees the whole of the north of Vietnam for Pizza 4P’s. “She’s just so motivated, and that rubs off on the people around her,” Sanae smiles. 

Yosuke and Sanae Masuko Pizza 4P's
Yosuke and Sanae Masuko at their Xuan Thuy Pizza 4P’s.

Despite successes like that, and regular namechecks as the best restaurants in Vietnam, Pizza 4P’s don’t shy away from the challenges of the business. Since 2020 they’ve compiled a comprehensive sustainability report, and published the results – even the ones they aren’t completely satisfied with. Sanae says there’s been “many, many failures and mistakes along the way”. But she wouldn’t change a thing. “For me, I believe we have to think carefully, and always do what we believe is right at the time, and we’ll never regret any decision.”

As they did in the early days, each of those pizzas ready for delivery goes out with a hand-written note, part of Pizza 4P’s commitment to the culture of omotenashi – guest satisfaction – which they also refer to as ‘delivering wow, sharing happiness.’ The benefits, says Sanae, are two-fold: “The partners write the messages while thinking about the recipient. It’s a small action. But that small act of humanity, we hope, gives the person receiving the pizza a little ‘wow’ moment. Secondly, it reminds our partner who wrote the note that what they do is more than making pizza…it’s making people happy.”  

In the back of Pizza 4P’s Xuan Thuy where a class of school kids are about to their own pizzas. [Photo courtesy of Pizza 4P’s]

With so many Pizza 4P’s projects, where would you take us on a two-day tour to understand the brand?

That’s tough. But I think we’d start off at our House-Made Cheese Factory in Dalat. Actually, we were making our own cheese even before we opened our first store so it’s a core activity for us. And then we started producing cheese in the back of the small kitchen in the restaurant. Moving production to Dalat meant we could increase the volume and the quality. There you can see our cheese craftsman stretching our meltingly soft mozzarella and making fresh burrata. 

Then we’d go to Thien Sinh Farm, to see how much passion goes into producing organic vegetables. We can visit some of Thien Sinh Farm’s happy cows too. We used beef from the cows, which had reached old age, in our 10th Year Gratitude Pizza. The cows are raised for their dung, and not for consumption. They eat local organic greens and grass and they roam around the fields of Thien Sinh Farm untethered. 

And then, back to Saigon. We’d go to Pizza 4P’s Xuan Thuy and serve up some pizza. This would help us show our circular economy and urban farm concepts. Knowing how the ingredients came to be on the plate will amplify the experience even more. 

Pizza at Pizza 4P's Xuan Thuy with founders
“Knowing how the ingredients came to be on the plate will amplify the experience even more.” – Sanae Masuko

As nature never gives us the same thing twice, how do you maintain consistency in the produce you serve?

Ingredients are affected by seasonality, soil, farming practices and recently the effects of climate change. Produce quality fluctuates naturally. We approach that from a systematic way. When people shop, they often choose ingredients based on appearance and size. That’s even though the products are unrecognizable when they’re cut, cooked or ground. So, we focus on the products’ flavor at the end of the process. 

We have also developed a supplier network that reduces the pressure on individual farms. This is especially necessary for organic farms that need time to recover their soil. 

Also, our seasonal menu lets us embrace what’s fresh. We listen to our suppliers about what’s in season, and what the taste profile of the produce is.

Then we embrace the uniqueness of the ingredients and share their story with our guests. 

Pizza 4P's Phnom Penh
Andkow & Co’s bullet-casing signage at Pizza 4P’s Phnom Pehn.

You’ve continued to publish your sustainability report, even when you weren’t satisfied with the results. How important is transparency?

Last year was the most challenging year yet. It affected our progress on some of our sustainability projects. However, we were still determined to publish our report, to share the successes…and the challenges. We’re still far from perfect. And we’re not zero waste. 

It’s not easy. Aiming for zero-waste has negative effects on hygiene, and on costs and on operations. So, for some progress wouldn’t be seen as success. 

There’s lots to be done on this journey, especially in food safety and quality for our retail, delivery and takeaway products. Plastic has been such a functional material for many years. But we’re working to explore innovative, eco-friendly solutions. 

Recycling at Pizza 4P's
Trash produced before and after Pizza 4P’s sustainability initiatives. [Photo courtesy of Pizza 4P’s]

You managed to open your first international Pizza 4P’s in Cambodia right after lockdown was eased.

Because it was our first time opening abroad, we had to plan extensively. And after that, trust the team and the process. Fortunately, we had the cooperation of lots of people and companies who helped make that zero-waste Pizza 4P’s Phnom Penh, which opened in July 2021, possible – people like Andkow & Co and NIRON HOUSE.

One of my favorite elements was made by Andkow & Co. They made the pizza servers and the Pizza 4P’s logo at the entrance from empty bullet casings. These things that were manufactured to hurt people now welcome and serve people in a place that promotes peace. 

Besides that, at our Pizza 4P’s Phnom Penh, we upcycled three tons of plastic waste which we turned into tables and chairs. We made other items from waste wood, fabrics, glass and leather. And operationally, we diverted 93% of waste out of landfills for recycling – from feeding organic waste to fly larvae, to crushing glass bottles into sand for construction materials. 

Pizza 4P's Phnom Penh
Pizza 4P’s Phnom Penh which opened in July 2021: “We had to plan it extensively…and trust the team and the process.” [Photo courtesy of Pizza 4P’s]

If you could visit one Pizza 4P’s as a guest, which one would you visit and what would you order?

Each store is a bit different. As a traveler, I’d go to our Ben Thanh Market Pizza 4P’s, where you can really feel our design philosophy meet Vietnamese culture and energy. 

I’d order some signatures with housemade cheese. I like our Parma Ham Wrap with Organic Rocket and Fresh Ricotta. The rocket is really special. It comes from our long-time partner Mr. Thang at Thien Sinh Farm. We provide the farm with whey, which they use as an organic fertilizer – one of the farm’s commitments to non-chemical farming. You can feel it in the first bite.

We’ve been building our selection of natural wines too. So I’d order our Beef Hanging Tender Confit and a glass of our light, fruity Il Vei Frizzante Rosso. Soon, it will be a natural wine from my favorite supplier, Cantina Giardino, from Campania in Italy. We’ll be stocking their Fiano ‘Gaia’ Cantina Giardino 2020 any day now. And I can’t wait!

Partners making pizza
Partners (Pizza 4P’s name for their staff) in the kitchen at their Saigon Pizza 4P’s, on Xuan Thuy.

Finally, while aiming to bring the world peace through pizza, where do you and Yosuke go to get some peace?

We still like to have a cheers of a beer or natural wine together after a long day. And we like to try new places and return to some old favorites. Lately, we often go to Lua, in District 2. Their Japanese-Filipino chef, Mark, serves super homemade cold cuts. And Japanese sommelier Yu-san offers some perfect pairings. That includes their house-made unfiltered sake. Besides that, we still love The Observatory. There, we can drink great wine while listening and dancing to great music…for peace!

Photos by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine.

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