Award winning chef brings a slice of Naples to State Street

SANTA BARBARA – Sure, everyone loves pizza. But for Chef Glenn Cybulski, pizza is a passion that drives his professional life and has led him to more than 100 culinary awards, including “World Pizza Champion” at the Citta Di Napoli world pizza competition in Naples, Italy.

Cybulski is the pizzaiolo and executive chef behind Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria, a new restaurant set to open at 905 State St, formerly Taj Café, in February. Cybulski has teamed up with entrepreneur Joseph Baumel, who also has a culinary background, to bring a new type of pizza restaurant to downtown.

The concept is authentic Neapolitan style (thin crust) pizza that is affordably priced and baked in 60 seconds. Similar to restaurants like Chipotle, customers will get to pick and choose their own toppings and watch their pizza be assembled. There will also be fixed-price specialty pizzas to choose from, based on Cybulski’s award-winning recipes. With the average pizza priced at just $8.50, Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria will be a bargain compared to other offerings downtown.

While this type of short-order pizzeria is common in Italy, the idea to open one in downtown Santa Barbara started with Joseph Baumel, the founder and president of the venture. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America at Graystone in Napa, Baumel heard Cybulski speak at a seminar and approached him about creating a new pizzeria concept.

Once the plan was hatched, Baumel started looking for the right location. Represented by brokers Michael Martz and Kristopher Roth of Hayes Commercial Group, Baumel found an ideal spot in 905 State St, a 2,615 sq ft restaurant space at the intersection of State and Canon Perdido streets. “Joe and Glenn have an exciting vision that is a great fit for this space in the heart of Santa Barbara’s pedestrian retail corridor,” Roth said.

“There isn’t anything on State Street quite like this,” Martz added. “The prospect of quick, convenient, and gourmet custom-made pizza has great potential.”

While convenience and price are important selling points, the priority for Chef Cybulski is phenomenal pizza. “All the best ingredients that we can possibly get our hands on – that’s what we are going to be using,” Cybulski said. This includes Caputo 00 flour and San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy, along with locally sourced fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. Persona will also offer gourmet salads. “Joseph and I will be at the Tuesday afternoon farmers market on State Street supporting our local farmers and offering our guests the best seasonal local ingredients,” Cybulski said.

The pizza is modeled after the legendary pizzerias in Naples, where the minimalist pizza margherita baked in wood-fired ovens is both an art form and salt-of-the-earth sustenance for ordinary people. Cybulski, who is a certified Italian Pizzaiolo, also promises the restaurant will feature another treasured Italian art form: gelato. “Joseph found an LA-based gelato chef who trained in Milano that will be making customized flavors for Persona. It’s the best gelato he had ever tasted, and I agree, it’s amazing.”

Since his first life-changing trip to Italy in the 1980s, Cybulski has returned annually, honing his skills for more than 20 years. On one trip, he was featured on the Food Network show “Glutton for Punishment” filmed in Naples. While he would be the first to agree that nothing can replace a culinary pilgrimage to Italy, he is determined to create a far more affordable alternative right here in Santa Barbara. “With the quality of our pizza, we’re saving you a trip to Naples and about $6,000,” Cybulski said.