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Award-winning pizzamaker and restaurant owner mentors staff, now bringing home hardware

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – Bronx native and pizzamaker Joe Carlucci has been racking up awards for his work for years.

He holds two Guinness World Records and holds multiple World Pizza Champion titles.

His prizes decorate the walls of his Madison restaurant, Valentina’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar. The restaurant itself has even received recognition for its product. Now, Carlucci is sharing the trophy case with one of his staff members.

“Being across the street from the cornfield four years ago, everybody laughed at us and thought we’d be out of business in a few months, but my team and my staff have created this,” Carlucci said.

Valentina’s found massive success, despite opening during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The pizza was a hit and in 2023, Carlucci moved just down the road to a five-thousand-square-foot space. Many staff members were part of the move, including Camryn Suggs.

The attorney-by-trade joined on the staff at the original location as a side gig looking to get into something that took her mind off of her day job. She worked her way up and is now Valentina’s General Manager.

“When I stepped into the role of more of a GM, I wanted to be able to do anything I was going to ask an employee to do. I wanted to clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, make the pizza, make the dough,” she said.

During the process of learning the jobs she had not already done, she found a passion in the kitchen. Carlucci took her under his wing as he continued competitions of his own. Some of his awards barred him from continuing to compete.

“I didn’t want to stop Valentina’s from winning any more awards!” he said.

Suggs was more than happy to step up.

“I told Camryn, ‘You have 2 choices: quit or compete!’ I’m just kidding, but I did ask her if she wanted to compete,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci began to mentor. He also sent her to Pizza School with Goodfellas in New York.

In her first competition at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas this year, she took on 100 competitors.

“When the results came out, I started looking at the bottom of the list, I didn’t expect to be — I have such a respect for the people in this competition,” Suggs said.

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As she continued to scroll, she realized she had won the Southeastern region and placed 6th in the world.

“I was shocked, that’s for sure!” she said.

Suggs is not the only one Carlucci now shares wall space with at Valentina’s. His other mentee, Valentina, holds a Guinness Kids World Record for her sky-high pizza toss.

“I think it was like 13 feet 9 inches,” Valentina said.

She is the restaurant’s namesake and Joe’s daughter.

“She likes to tell me what to do,” Carlucci said.

The 11-year-old has been in the kitchen with her dad as long as she can remember. With the exception of cheer and church, she said that her desire to be in this restaurant is just as strong.

“I really want to follow in my dad’s footsteps.”

She proves it daily. Suggs and Carlucci said she does every job in the restaurant and loves cooking for the staff.

“She genuinely loves it here,” Suggs said.

Carlucci got teary-eyed as he explained what seeing Valentina in the restaurant does for him.

“She cares about people. She cares about the place, she cares about the quality of the product going out. She gets it. For an 11-year-old, she gets it,” he said.

Valentina can officially begin competing when she turns 16.

Carlucci said he couldn’t be more proud to see two young women hungry to learn the trade.

“That’s the biggest win I could have is teaching and mentoring and passing along the craft.”



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