While pastizzerias are on almost every corner of Malta and Gozo, they are a far rarer sight aboard. And it’s that unique selling point which has allowed one man to crack the notoriously competitive American food market.
Joseph Gauci owns a pastizzi shop in Tucson, Arizona, with the straight-to-the-point name ‘Malta Joe's’.
As well as serving the local market, Joseph says he’s the only company in America that ships the traditional Maltese snack all over the States.
But how did it start? “I was born in Westchester, New York. My mother was from Tarxien and my father was from Paola. They moved to the States in 1950. I spent my life in New York and had a wonderful career as a recording engineer in Manhattan for more than 30 years.”
“During this time, I started making pastizzi over the holidays for my neighbours. They all said that I should do something more with this idea. But I had no background in food or business. I had learned to make pastizzi from my mother as we ate them all the time growing up, but to make it for the masses I had to step up my game. So, I travelled to Malta and met with Chef Mario of Primavera Caterers in Tarxien. He allowed me to train with some of the top pastizzi makers on the island. They were happy to show me the ropes of mass production, as long as I showed them my plane ticket back to the States, since they didn’t want any more competition in Malta!”
Joseph's family leaving Malta in the 1950's
“I chose to base myself in Tucson as it’s a beautiful city and is a very foodie type of place, where people will try all kinds of dishes. I set up my business in 2016 and it was an instant smash. All it took was giving people a sample of a pastizz and they were hooked.”
“I started out with a simple menu at first, the traditional ricotta cheese variety, but over the next three years I branched out to include the pizelli (pea) version, as well as creating something especially for the people of Tucson called ‘The South West’.”
Joseph has adapted some of his recipes to suit the American vegan market
As well as catering for locals, Joseph also expanded his network of customers by adapting his recipes to include vegans.
“I have many vegan friends who don’t have a lot of options when it comes to snacks, so I decided to try and bake them an alternative split pea and curry pastizz. Vegans don’t do margarine, so I found a vegan-friendly vegetable spread. It took me a long time to get the recipe right, but when I nailed it, they just took off! I also make apple strudel pastizzi and nutella pastizzi for special occasions and holidays.”
So how does Joseph plan to push his business forward?
“Right now, our customers are mostly Maltese. We sell all over the United States and I am the only business shipping pastizzi with a website! On May 1st we plan to get our first food truck on the road which we’ve called The Pastizzi Express. I think it will be a great way for people to build a relationship with pastizzi.”