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PizzAut – Made in Italy

No trampling on dreams: here comes PizzAut!

A project dictated by inclusion, born from Nico Acampora’s desire to change things by allowing people with autism to gain dignity and autonomy through work. A structured project, including restaurants and food trucks run by autistic people, but also training courses.

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‘No trampling on dreams’: this is the slogan worn on their red aprons by the guys of PizzAut, a Made in Italy project for the inclusion of boys and girls with autism.

It stems from Nico Acampora’s extraordinary drive and will to change things. He moved from Naples to Cernusco sul Naviglio (MI), where he worked as a professional educator and began his activity by setting up the CAGs (Centri di Aggregazione Giovanili – Youth Aggregation Centres) and dealing with social policies for Cernusco and Martesana. An expert in social planning, he has worked with many institutions over the years, including ASL, the Metropolitan City, the Lombardy Region, several Third-Sector actors, municipal administrations, and schools.

From crisis to opportunity: not just a figure of speech

In 2010, the turning point or, rather, the damper: Acampora had to face the diagnosis of autism of his second son, Leo. It was a nasty blow for Nico, but he did not give up and soon got back to his feet.

As in so many families, the Acamporas invite over friends to their place and make pizza. While observing his son’s passion for rolling out dough and tomatoes, Nico came up with the idea of an activity that could represent a different future from the one written for many autistic children, often made up of days at the day centre or even spent indoors.

A real business, sustainable and profitable, but above all, inclusive: this is how the idea of PizzAut was born and immediately became a project. “I knew that this could work,” says Nico in an interview with The Good In Town “But the real challenge was to create a real, continuous job that could stand on the market and be carried out by autistic kids.”

A frustrated father?

Talking about it on social media, Nico – as it often happens – receives all kinds of reactions, not only positive ones. He is even described as a ‘frustrated father of a disabled person’, but he is not discouraged and goes on his way. In 2017, he founded the non-profit association PizzaAut with the slogan ‘Let’s Nourish Inclusion’. The beginning is quiet, with a pizza chef and a restaurant manager teaching the kids the trade. However, in 2018, fame arrived when Acampora and his kids appeared on the TV show ‘Tu sì que vales’.

A lockdown is not enough to stop big dreams

Not even the pandemic can stop them, and although the pizzeria’s opening is postponed due to the lockdown, business continues on the PizzAutObus, the food truck of inclusion. The pizzeria eventually opened in 2021 in Cassina De Pecchi (MB). It became the first restaurant in Italy to be managed directly by staff with autism (young people aged between 20 and 25) and a model workshop for social inclusion. In the beginning, the kids are supported by the educators who accompany them to the tables, but in a short time, they become practically autonomous, and the educators remain only to facilitate their tasks.

Collateral benefits

Soon, the kids’ families notice improvements in their social and interpersonal skills, a sign that working is excellent help and support for the therapeutic activities, which, of course, continue. Today, many of them can take public transport on their own, and others have been able to take out a mortgage thanks to permanent employment, all things that are difficult to imagine for an autistic person who has not been able to have an opportunity to integrate into society, as unfortunately still happens all too often.

An economy with people at the centre

In 2021, Acampora received the Ambrogino d’Oro for his tireless commitment to social work. In 2022, President Mattarella named him a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. Soon, many celebrities started to go to the pizzeria, from Stefano Belisari, singer of the band Elio delle Storie Tese, who is also the father of an autistic person, to chef Alessandro Borghese. The PizzAut team was also invited to Rome to cook for parliamentarians in Montecitorio Square. They were then received by Pope Francis, who wore a red apron for the occasion and mentioned the importance of an economy capable of putting people at the centre in his speech.

Today, PizzaAut is a non-profit organisation that employs 35 people with autism. Its project includes PizzAut Academy, a training course for people between 18 and 29 that promotes the labour inclusion of autistic people in the catering field.

Congratulations to those who, starting from a problem, find solutions!