The owner and chef at Mister 0-1 in Miami is creating new pizzas in his sleep. Literally.

By Andy Meek
Updated August 14, 2017
Renato Viola
Credit: Courtesy of Mister 01

Renato Viola sleeps with a notebook by his bed. There are nights when the 36-year-old chef sees visions of pizza in his dreams—grand pies, unconventional pies, ideas that dare the owner of one of Miami's most celebrated pizzerias to grab the pad and get it all down so he can later reproduce what came to him in the night.

It's this creative process that led Viola to open his Mister 01 restaurants in Miami, and that led him to the United States at all. He spells it all out on the wall of his Brickell neighborhood restaurant—his second pizzeria. Just to the left of the restaurant's logo is a description of the 0-1 visa. According to the United States Government, to qualify for a 0-1 "the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim."

That visa is why Chef Viola is in Miami, overseeing the feeding of a packed dining room on a summer afternoon when the heat outside is oppressive and the pies on each table's raised stand are steaming, brightly colored manifestations of Viola's approach to his craft. He secured a 0-1 visa to come here to the Magic City at age 30 from the small coastal Italian town of Agropoli—because he's not just a good pizza chef, he's that good.

The most recent recent product of one of his middle-of-the-night inspirations he calls the Coffee Paulo. An unorthodox pie served with coffee, honey on top, spicy salami and gorgonzola blue cheese.

"It's my last creation, and it's VERY good," he enthuses. "Very good."

Another of his newer creations is Miami's third Mister 01 pizza outpost, which he's preparing to open in trendy Wynwood by September.

It's an expansion of his brand and his kitchen escapades, which now span two continents and started back when he was still a boy. Even then, it was already apparent he was going to be wearing an apron professionally and telling people what to do in a kitchen. When his friends were saving up money to buy scooters, Viola was already a wannabe chef squirreling away pocket money until he had enough to buy his own mixer. He was apprenticing for chefs by age 11, went on to study in Rome, Naples and Milan, eventually joining the Italian pizza acrobatics team—winning awards at pizza competitions around the world.

It wasn't enough. There was one more itch for him to scratch, and he started filling out the visa paperwork to do it. Because when you decamp to the other side of the world, where nobody knows your name; when there's now a business attached to your talent in the kitchen; when your pizza is so good that at your first location you don't even bother hanging a sign outside because people hear about it and seek you out—that's when you know you've made it.

"When I came here, I knew I'd have to start from zero," Viola said. "But you know what? I like the challenge. I like new experience. And I always like to make something new.

"I'm from south Italy, you know? Food is in our blood. I grew up in the kitchen with my mother. So when my mother wakes up at 4 in the morning to prepare the lasagna, I was with her to see how she worked. For me, it's normal. Food is something that's in my life always."

And Miami's culture suits him. Sure, he's one of those indefatigable creative types who fires off email missives at all hours of the day or night to his staff. But his staff also describe him as laid-back and "chill." It's a little hard to hear his voice above the din of the kitchen. He's not one for barking orders.

Granted, he sweats the details. Like the 72 to 96 hours it takes to proof the restaurant's dough. Or the restaurant's flour, which he buys from a farm in Italy. Viola knows when to push creatively, and how far. And when to roll with the punches, like one day when the suits at Visa came knocking, threatening legal action over his restaurant's original name, Visa 0-1, which was supposed to be a shout-out to the document that got him into the United States. Viola and company. huddled with the lawyers and decided it wasn't a fight worth losing to the credit card giant. The name switched to Mister 01 earlier this year.

Viola took it in stride. He woke up at 6:30, like he did today, like he will tomorrow, with the same ambition—to make that perfect pie.

He spends time in the mornings with his newborn daughter Grace, then heads into the restaurant. There are nights when a vision of something new has rocked him in his sleep.

"I have to tell you, I think the United States—they give you opportunity no other country's going to give you ... For me, it's not a job. The time this starts to be work for me, I'm going to finish.