Shop's pizzas bring home tastes of world travel

Shawn Halwani gave up IT job to fulfill dream of owning pizza shop; now his travel is paying off gastronomically

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Shawn Halwani, owner of Halwani Cuisine, 1453 Grandview Ave., grew up in the Middle East but discovered a love for pizza while in Italy. Halwani Cuisine offers a variety of pizzas from around the world, as well as more-traditional items.
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Shawn Halwani has a passion for making a lot of dough -- pizza dough, that is.

"Money is nice, but it's more important to do what you love," said Halwani, who gave up a career in information technology to open his own pizza shop, Halwani Cuisine, 1453 Grandview Ave., behind the Giant Eagle store.

Born in the Middle East to Indian parents, Halwani said he was the only one of the five boys in his family who liked helping in the kitchen.

"I just enjoyed helping prepare the food for our family of nine," he said.

After graduating from college, Halwani traveled to more than 20 countries as part of his IT career.

"Everywhere I went, I loved sampling the cuisine," he said. "I guess I'm kind of a foodie."

While visiting Italy, Halwani said, he was particularly entranced by the pizza and stromboli.

"I bought a pizza and sat down in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and took my picture there," he said. "I thought, 'Someday I'd like to own my own pizza shop.' It became a dream of mine."

When he arrived in Columbus in 2007 to pursue his doctorate in computer science, Halwani took a pizza-delivery job to help meet his expenses. The experience further fueled his dream.

"I saw how much fun the pizza business can be," he said. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's a fun atmosphere."

Finally, about 18 months ago, he opened his own shop.

"I call it Halwani Cuisine because we offer a lot more than just pizza," including subs, stromboli, gyros, buffalo wings and salads, Halwani said.

Early this month, the shop began offering a variety of authentic international pizza recipes, including Shanghai shrimp pizza from China, Tandoori chicken pizza from India and a Royal Moroccan bastilla pizza featuring garlic shrimp sauce.

Pizza recipes from South Africa, Mexico and Greece also are featured on the menu.

"This is where my experience traveling and tasting food from around the world has come in handy," Halwani said.

His inspiration to feature a Moroccan pizza came from his wife.

"She is from Morocco, and they have such a rich cuisine," Halwani said. "The Royal Moroccan pizza is often served as part of wedding celebrations."

The international pizzas already have proved popular, he said.

"It's been fun to be able to give people a chance to try something really different," Halwani said.

Or something familiar, as the case may be.

"A couple from China come in the other day and when they saw the Chinese flag on the menu, they said, 'We want that one,' and didn't even have to read the ingredients," he said.

Halwani said he hopes to expand his menu further.

Last year, Halwani Cuisine won first place in the Fifth by Northwest Pizza Crawl. Winning first place in a pizza-centric community such as Grandview is a great source of pride, Halwani said.

He said one of the reasons people like his pizza is his own special recipe for the crust.

"The crust is what really makes the pizza, I think," he said. "It all starts with that."

His shop offers both thin and thick crusts and uses no pork products, Halwani said.

Halwani Cuisine is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily and for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

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