Playa Pizza launches Pizza & Politics series

Pizzeria owner Stephen Facella hopes to the new series promotes voter education.

Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson, left, running for re-election, was the first candidate to participate in the new Pizza & Politics event series.
Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson, left, running for re-election, was the first candidate to participate in the new Pizza & Politics event series.
Photo courtesy of Playa Pizza
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Local political candidates in Orange County now have the opportunity to meet with voters and answer questions in a relaxed environment at Playa Pizza’s new event series: Pizza & Politics.

The series, started by Playa Pizza owner Stephen Facella, aims to promote voter education as part of the Horizon West restaurant’s commitment to being a community gathering place.

Facella said the main purpose of the event is to humanize the candidates, encourage people to vote and get involved, and to keep the conversations positive.

“I told the candidates, ‘This is your neighbor; you’re going to see them at Publix,’” he said. “I want to keep our community positive and thriving. We need to back (one another) and take care of (one another) — not just for ourselves but for our children and their children.”


Facella has never missed voting in an election since he was 18 years old.

“Too many people have died to give people the right to vote,” he said. “I don’t want to ever take that for granted in this country.”

Facella said he is known as the “level-headed friend who pays attention to facts and not emotions.” He has never had a party-line ballot or voted for a single party in his life.

In his corporate career back in 2012, he encouraged people to vote, emphasized voting by mail and registered as someone who could register others to vote. 

“I would know all the topics on the ballot, and people in my department would come to me and ask what they should do about certain topics,” he said. “I would explain to them what each side wants and let them make their own choices. I became known as the guy who would tell people what the facts were, but I would never tell people how to vote.”

These experiences helped influence the creation of Pizza & Politics.

“You’re never supposed to talk about politics, but everyone loves pizza,” Facella said. “This is designed to be a very casual environment. I love this country, and we don’t have a country if we don’t have people voting. We are a representative democracy, so our laws are only as smart as our elected officials. If you have an uneducated populace, then you’ll have an uneducated representative government making uneducated laws. This is the greatest country on the face of this planet, and we have issues, but they’re our issues. They’re not going to improve if we don’t get involved.”

Facella first teaches the candidate how to make pizza, which they later enjoy together. Anyone can come meet the candidate, mingle and ask questions. Facella asks each candidate if they enjoy pineapple on pizza, because it is one of the most controversial topics in the pizza industry. He then asks the candidate a series of questions on video without the public with no agenda or timer. 

He plans to edit and release the videos within the next few weeks.

So far, Facella has invited 10 candidates to participate in the series, including those running for Orange County Commission, Orange County School Board and Supervisor of Elections.

Although he is starting with candidates in the August primary election, he plans on inviting candidates on the November ballot soon after. 

Facella said the events are open to the public and are not in any way an endorsement of one candidate or cause over another.

The first Pizza & Politics event was held June 25, with current District 1 County Commissioner Nicole Wilson, who seeking re-election.

“It went really great,” Facella said. “There were a lot of people watching her make pizza, which I thought was pretty funny. I learned a lot by listening to Commissioner Wilson talk. She’s very knowledgeable — especially when it comes to growth in our area. I learned about all of the upstream effects that have happened over the last 20 years that we are now living with today. We talked about things like overgrowth, overdevelopment and roadway flooding, as well as the acquiring of about 40 acres of land to prevent that from happening. She explained how for 17 years, we’ve been giving away impact fees to developers, so why do you think this place is overpopulated and that we don’t have enough roads? The developers haven’t been paying their fair share. I learned about those types of things, and I learned that she put an end to that. That was very eye-opening to me.”

“Local politics shouldn't feel as fractured as national politics — it should be transparent and approachable, and there's no place more approachable than what Stephen has created at Playa Pizza,” Wilson said. “I'm so grateful for our small-business community and residents who are looking for new ways to get involved and informed. It's making election season more fun.”


Facella is excited to meet and learn more about the other candidates. 

The second Pizza & Politics event is set for Monday, July 8, with School Board District 4 candidate Kyle Goudy.

The next events currently scheduled are Wednesday, July 10 with School Board District 4 candidate Jake Petroski and Friday, July 12 with Orange County District 1 Commission candidate Austin Arthur.

Petroski said he decided to participate in the event, because as a candidate, he believes he should take every opportunity to engage with community members, and he looks forward to having open dialogue about the issues and opportunities facing the school district.

“I’m excited, and I think it’s great that Playa Pizza is engaging the community by hosting this type of event,” he said. “Being a father, I understand that some of the best conversations come at the dinner table with my family, so I’m eager to hear the concerns of the community and families in our area. This event will be extremely beneficial to the community by fostering open and honest dialogue. I think we can all agree that we need better schools and more pizza.”

Residents should follow Playa Pizza’s Facebook page for an updated list of events.

Heather Parker, Horizon West community member, said she loves what Facella is doing.

“Horizon West is in a unique situation being located in unincorporated Orange County,” she said. “We only have a few government officials (who) represent us. It is so important to be well educated on what each of these candidates stand for and have in mind for our community. Pizza & Politics is a great opportunity to meet these candidates personally and learn about their positions. I hope to attend as many as possible.”

In addition to Pizza & Politics, Facella has allowed three political campaigns to use the restaurant space and has catered three off-site political events.

He said he built the restaurant to be large enough to host community events and gatherings. Playa Pizza hosts a multitude of events throughout the week, including live music, trivia, and wine and painting.

As of June, Playa Pizza also now hosts watch parties for the Orlando Pride as the first-ever Pride Pub. 

“Our community is more intertwined and linked than it’s not,” Facella said. “Everything in this place was selected intentionally to support our local community and create a comfortable gathering place. That’s what we hope to continue to contribute.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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