To watch Marra family members — founders of pizza oven company Marra Forni — eat lunch in their Beltsville test kitchen is to see their most basic business instincts at work.
In short, they want to feed you.
For lunch on a recent Friday, Emiliano Marra, the company’s vice president and a certified Verace Pizza Napoletana instructor in the art of making Neapolitan pizzas, pulls a giant tray of roasted sea bass and tomatoes with mushrooms and white beans out of the oven. His brother, President and CEO Francesco Marra, puts down plates, bread, slices of hard salami and bottles of water.
Just like in my grandmother’s kitchen, there’s no way I’m getting out of here without making a plate.
The meal is a daily occurrence, but the family does have something to celebrate this week. Marra Forni, which currently employs 11 people, is preparing to grow exponentially using a $455,000 loan backed by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s touted Economic Development Incentive Fund.
“Over the next year or so, we’re probably going to double in size,” Francesco Marra, 40, tells me in his small office, dotted with family photos and featuring a poster of the Italian national soccer team. Marra Forni had $1.5 million in sales last year, its third in existence. It’s hoping to double sales with this expansion.
The company counts Whole Foods and Bertucci’s among its clients — a list that extends as far as Colombia and Australia. Emiliano often trains new pizzaiolos, or pizza makers to the rest of us, on the use of the ovens in Marra Forni’s test kitchen, and a third brother, Enzo, serves as the company’s director of operations.
The company has branched into other kitchen equipment, such as a hand-crank Marra slicer for charcuterie, as well as other restaurant supplies with tableware.
The brothers, like good Italian sons, emigrated in 1995 to the U.S. from Naples, Italy, because their mother married a Marylander. Marra Forni is a sister company of Euro Gourmet and Euro Restaurant Solutions, which Francesco and Emiliano started in 1999 to import specialty foods from Italy. They got into the pizza oven business after a client asked if they could get him one from Italy.
“We had a request, so we decided to sell them as well,” said Emiliano.
The ovens are manufactured in the Beltsville factory from brick sourced from Italy’s Campagna region — which prevents cracking, something that plagues pizza ovens and can be an expensive fix, according to Francesco Marra. Their ovens have a sleek, rounded and recognizable design. Before learning that Marra Forni was based in Prince George’s County, I spotted two of them myself: A jet-black one in Ovvio Osteria and another brightly colored mosaic one in the new Italian Market & Deli, both restaurants in Merrifield.
“We really modernized the look. Before, they were a lot more traditional,” Francesco said of the ovens. “We made it into something in a more modern Italian style.”
“We fell in love with our product, and we started to believe in it more and more,” Emiliano added.
With the addition of the county EDI fund loan meant to spur more investment, the Marras see nowhere to go but up.
“Now I’m very proud to be an American citizen, because of the opportunity this land has given to me and my family and my partners,” said Francesco Marra. “Coming from Italy, where especially now there is less and less opportunity for young entrepreneurs, the U.S. is still the land of opportunity if you work hard.”