Restaurant News & Reviews

Why Visa threatened to sue this South Beach pizza shop

Visa, the credit card company, threatened to sue Visa-01 if they didn't change their name. They are now Mister 01.
Visa, the credit card company, threatened to sue Visa-01 if they didn't change their name. They are now Mister 01.

Renato Viola’s pizza-making skills were extraordinary enough that the U.S. government granted him a special 0-1 visa for “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.”

He named his two-year-old Miami Beach hidden gem of a restaurant after it, Visa-01: Extraordinary Pizza.

But now the credit card company Visa is threatening him with an extraordinary lawsuit.

The global credit card company sent the restaurant owners a series of letters saying the pizza shop’s name infringes on the company’s trademark. Change your name or face our army of lawyers, they wrote.

Extraordinary individuals apparently know when to say when. The restaurant, which has expanded to two other locations, has changed its name to Mister 01, still focusing on the Italian pizzaiolo who took his pizza-making talents to South Beach.

“The name has changed but the pizza is the same,” said co-owner Umberto Mascagni.

Mascagni said he and his partner knew the battle to keep their name was going to be too great. They consulted several lawyers who spoke plainly to them: The fight would take more than two years, could easily cost them more than $200,000 in legal fees, and winning wasn’t guaranteed.

“We decided it was too risky to fight it,” Mascagni said. “It’s frustration but we had to [change] it.”

Instead, they’ll use that money to grow. They opened another Mister 01 location in Mary Brickell Village late last year and plan to open a third in Wynwood before summer.

Their name, after all, was never the reason for their success. It was all Viola’s pizza.

The chef “spins dough from a secret recipe that has been proofing for nearly three days. The result is a light, thin, crispy pie that emerges from the oven with scorched bubbles on the edges but tender and chewy,” Miami Herald food critic Victoria Pesce Elliott wrote in a 3-star (Very Good) review of the restaurant.

The original 18-seat restaurant is tucked inside a windowless, nondescript office building off Michigan Avenue and 17th Street in Miami Beach. There’s not even a sign on the door.

Still, locals found and fell in love with the Viola’s hand-tossed pizzas that made Viola a world-champion, a prize that made him a standout in his home country of Italy and earned him that eponymous 01 visa. Viola is from the Agropoli region of Italy, where pizza-making is art form.

Locals meander in the office building lobby, waiting for take-out when lines are too long. Others call for reservations.

Viola’s pizza “has the goods to back up the restaurant’s subhead: Extraordinary Pizza,” Pesce Elliot wrote.

That’s high praise by any name.

Carlos Frías: 305-376-4624, @Carlos_Frias

Mister 01 Extraordinary Pizza

1680 Michigan Ave., Miami Beach


1000 S. Miami Ave., Brickell