Ibrahim Songne came to Italy in 2004 when he was only 12. And it was around the same time that he first tasted pizza. After taking a bite, he found it “gross and completely tasteless,” he told NPR.
In school, Songne was the only Black student and he faced further isolation because he was stuttering. While undergoing speech therapy, he took on part-time jobs and he eventually ended up at a pastry shop where he fell in love with baking.
He taught himself how to make pizza. He tried his preparations with his roommate and eventually landed on a formula featuring “lievito made” — “mother dough,” a natural yeast where the same sourdough starter is used perpetually, according to NPR.
That is how Songne birthed his pizza joint called IBRIS— a hybrid of his first and last name. Before opening his pizza joint in downtown Trento three years ago, he was warned by locals that no one would patronize him because he was Black. Activists have over the years called on Italy to confront its racism, anti-Blackness, and white privilege.
The first few days of operation recorded low sales but with persistence and consistency, Songne succeeded in winning Italian customers.
“Once they taste my pizza, all judgment disappears,” Songne said.
His pizzeria was recently named among the top 50 in the world by 50TopPizza, which described Songne’s pizzas as “fantastic”.
“The dough is perfectly leavened, digestible and the toppings are rich and delicious. Refined ingredients have been used for the very imaginative combinations of each pizza or focaccia. The chickpea pie is very good and goes perfectly with the focaccia. This establishment is a convenient and economical culinary reference point in the historic center of Trento. An interesting feature is a possibility of leaving a paid pizza for a subsequent customer,” 50TopPizza wrote.
While some may attribute his pizza success to pure luck or lack of competition, it is worthwhile to note that two other pizza joints sit on the same block while seven others are within minutes’ walk, NPR said.
Songne usually works in his pizza joint with his brother, Issouf, and changes the pizza menu daily, adding non-traditional ingredients like purple-potato cream and chickpea.
“If given enough care and value, food can change the world. It’s a bridge between people,” said the Burkinabe immigrant.