Pizza ranks right up there with hot dogs as the quintessential American food. But, pizza has a long and deep history that spans the globe.
For Scott Wiener, that history, combined with a deep passion for pizza, has led to a job many pizza lovers would love to have -- a pizza tour guide in the center of the pizza capital of America, New York City.
Scott runs Scott's Pizza Tours. All week long, he takes tourists on both bus and walking tours of some of New York's oldest and most famous pizzerias. By the end of these three-hour tours, your stomach is filled with some of the most delicious pizza in the world, and your brain is filled with the history of pizza and with a deeper understanding of how great pizza is made and cooked.
Scott has done what many of us dream of doing: taking a passion and turning it into a livelihood.
He graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 with a degree in TV and film production and spent some time working in the music and TV industries in New York. He also spent time in a band, traveling around on bus tours.
Discovering your passion
"When we traveled around, we ate a lot of pizza," he said. "In different places the pizza was different and it got me wondering why, and that started my researching into pizza."
Scott spent a year working as an event planner for a city in New Jersey, but left the job. "After a year, I realized I didn't want to do this for 25 years until I retired," he said. "I like doing things I like, and I was spending all day at work thinking about pizza."
For the next six months he got by, in part by working on a boat in exchange for living on the boat rent-free. And then, something happened:
"On April 27, 2008, after being badgered by my friends, I did my first pizza bus tour." Scott took his friends on a bus tour of pizzerias around two New York boroughs. That led to bus tours every Sunday and then to bus and walking tours during the week. "It took about four or five tours before I felt confident enough to start doing tours for people I didn't know."
Quitting your day job
Scott started doing more and more tours. He was a one-man operation, booking tours, doing the accounting, researching, and conducting the tours. "It interfered with my other jobs," he said, "so it became my job." About a year after starting to do the tours, he made it his sole occupation. Now he does three to 10 tours a week, depending on the time of year. He says that both locals and tourists take the tours, and his international clientele is also growing. He has done some marketing and has a website, but the business mainly grows through recommendations and word of mouth.
Turning your passion into a paycheck
Scott has some advice for anyone who wants to turn something they are passionate about into a way to make a living: "Do a lot of research and make yourself an authority on what you are passionate about; but don't make people think you are above them," he said. "And then figure out the best way you are comfortable conveying your passion to others. That may be writing or blogging or touring. In a way it's doing the least amount of work possible. Make it fun. I don't consider what I do work."
Scott takes a two-week trip every year to research various aspects of pizza, and he does a lot of reading. He has done everything from visit tomato farms in California to touring New York reservoirs that provide the water New York pizzerias use in their pizza dough.
One of Scott's most memorable pizza tour moments was when a man proposed to his girlfriend at the end of a tour. "At the end of my tours I ask, "Does anyone have any more questions?" And this guy says he has a question, and then he bends down and asks his girlfriend if she will marry him."
Read more about my recent pizza tour with Scott; or watch this YouTube video about Scott's Pizza Tours: