An African Immigrant's Pizza Wins Global Raves And Overcomes Italian Prejudices

Posted: Jan 31, 2022

After immigrating to Italy from Burkina Faso at age 12, Ibrahim Songne tasted pizza for the first time. His reaction?


"I'd never even heard of pizza before I arrived in Italy. I took a bite and found it gross and completely tasteless."

Despite that inauspicious start, Songne went on to take out a loan to open a pizza joint — and in late 2021 the 30-year-old's pizzeria was named one of the top 50 in the world. calls Ibrahim's dough "perfectly leavened" and the recipes "imaginative."

Ibrahim christened his restaurant, IBRIS— an all-caps hybrid of his first and last name. Before he opened the small shop in downtown Trento 3 years ago, he says that locals warned him, "A Black man behind the counter will drive every customer away."

These fears seemed realized when on the first day open, Ibrahim stood behind the counter and a middle-aged couple entered. Silently, the pair surveyed the pizza on display, he remembers. Then, he says, they likely assumed that someone of African descent didn't speak Italian, remarked, "This pizza looks amazing. Too bad they let Black people work here" and left.

In 2022, it's a very different scene. With only three small benches for seating, lunchtime patrons pack IBRIS' narrow storefront, shouting orders over the Afrobeats soundtrack.

A Recipe For Success

Ibrahim's success is hardly due to lack of competition. Two other pizza places sit on the same block and another seven are within minutes' walk.

He says his pizza distinguishes itself due to the "intensity, texture and sense of experimentation."

Over the past decade, "crunch pizza" became a trend in northeastern Italy — Crunch pizza customarily has a lightweight but multi-layered dough— that is sometimes fried— and makes a loud crunching noise when bitten into. Ibrahim has created a subtler version of this crispiness.

As for the experimental toppings, they reflect Songne's belief in Italy's zero kilometer food movement, using locally and seasonally available fresh ingredients whenever possible. Working side-by-side with his younger brother, Issouf, he changes the pizza menu daily and includes non-traditional ingredients like purple-potato cream, saffron and ceci bean (chickpea).

By Ian Brennan
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