24 October 2023

Building a pizza oven and hosting pizza nights gave me a purpose and a safe space to reconnect with loved ones. It saved my life.

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By Tom Gozney, founder and CEO of Gozney.

I turned to alcohol and drugs when I young, lost and struggling to understand myself and where I fitted in in the world.

In my early years I was always a timid, sensitive kid and then when I started school I began to struggle. Unbeknownst to me, I had dyslexia. But it was at a time when dyslexia wasn’t really recognised and I didn’t understand why I found everything so difficult when other kids were doing so well. I knew I was capable but not being able to learn in the same textbook way slowly eroded my self-esteem and I began acting out through frustration. I adopted this persona of the clown and the naughty kid that really wasn’t me, but it got me attention and made me popular with other kids.

When I was 13, I was introduced to a friendship group outside of school that were smoking and using drugs and it felt like a natural progression for this persona I had embraced. It felt good to be a part of something. For the first time I really felt comfortable in my own skin, part of a group of boys that felt, at the time, like brothers. Drugs and alcohol became intertwined in my perception of who I was. They gave me a great sense of relief and allowed me to switch my brain off or at least slow it down for a bit. At that time, it all felt manageable and fun but then it quickly escalated, and it wasn’t long before I was expelled from my school for reckless behaviour — I was rebelling against any authority I could.

By the time I was 16 it had gotten bad. My mum took me into a rehabilitation centre after overhearing a conversation and realising I had been using hard drugs. I remember them assessing me and telling me I was one of the worse cases they had seen but I was in unbelievable denial about the situation and 100% not ready to accept it. I just thought I was doing what all teenagers do and so I rejected it and refused help.

The reality of my parents finding out and trying to help/protect me drove me out the house and to the escapism of drugs even more.

I finally realised I might have a problem was when I tried to stop and couldn’t. I got into trouble with the police and was facing prosecution and as much as I had this persona I wanted to uphold, the reality of going to a prison was sobering and I knew I wanted to change. This wasn’t the person I wanted to be or who I felt I was deep down. But I couldn’t stop and it turned my world into this horrible roller-coaster where my issues with drugs and alcohol got worse with inconsistent periods of sobriety and then intense relapses and benders. It all of a sudden went from being a fun escape to something so self-destructive and damaging. The harder I tried to get stop the worse it would become, and it felt like a race to the bottom.

One evening I was attacked by eight boys when leaving a club. I lost all my teeth, broke my eye socket and smashed my skull. As a result of my injuries after the attack, I was struggling to eat or drink and that triggered an insane escalation. I was drinking to oblivion to escape the trauma of that attack and the pain of not being able to stop myself. In rehab they always say there needs to be a rock bottom but there was no moment until then. That was my rock bottom.

With the support of my mum and girlfriend I finally admitted I was ready to accept help. We found a rehabilitation centre in South Africa that focused on addressing the deep-rooted causes of my issues and helping heal them. Essentially re-wiring those ingrained responses. Even then I tried to sabotage it. I was petrified. But I think I knew deep down something had to change and that I was capable of so much more.

Rehab and my recovery journey was so hard but my life was instantly better for it. In rehab a lot of the chaos was calmed. I was determined to prove everyone wrong and finally get sober. I was blessed with a councillor called Oliver who truly helped me flourish, helped me unearth the severity of my issues and accept the damage they had caused. He changed my perspective and allowed me to be vulnerable. He changed my life.

Leaving treatment and returning home at 21 and sober was really challenging. I felt like the only 21-year-old that didn’t drink — all my friends were out at uni discovering clubbing whereas I was living with my parents and sober. I didn’t want my sobriety to define me and stop me from hanging out with my friends but as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was struggling to be in social situations where everyone was drinking. I threw myself into cooking, there was something in the ritual of it I could just lose myself in and it became a beacon of light for me in a tough time. I started having my mates over for dinners and one night we made pizza. Unlike other dishes or dinners, everyone rolled up their sleeves and got involved. I witnessed this insane sense of community and connection and it felt special.

I was inspired and began building my own brick pizza oven by hand. Building the oven and the experience of hosting those pizza nights gave me a purpose and a safe space to reconnect with loved ones. I don’t think anyone at the time really knew how much that oven meant to me. It saved my life and ultimately changed it for the better. All my mates started asking me to build them an oven and I became obsessed with the ritual, determined to build the best oven I could. I re-discovered my love for design and coupled with my drive for others to experience what I had. Gozney was born.

We’ve done some incredible things since, and I’ve built a business beyond my wildest dreams all with the aim of bringing that experience to as many people as possible. I know first-hand that cooking with fire cooking can not only change how people create food, but how they live. And for some, what they become.

Today, the hardest thing for me in my life is maintaining balance and it’s something I know I’m going to have to continue to work on. But I now know who I am, who I want to be, what’s important to me and what impression I want to make on the world.

You are worthy. You are capable. You have purpose. You can achieve everything you want to achieve. You are not alone.


To celebrate Tom’s 15-year odds-defying journey from drug and alcohol dependency to visionary designer, Gozney is launching their Tom Gozney Signature Edition Roccbox — an all-black Tom Gozney Signature Edition of the pizza oven that started a culinary revolution.

To mark this milestone, Gozney has teamed up with three recovery focused charities close to his heart and committed to donating $100,000 to help people struggling with alcohol and drug issues across the globe.

In the UK, £40 of every Tom Gozney Black Roccbox sale will go directly to With You to help fund our work to provide free and confidential support to anyone experiencing issues with drugs or alcohol.

Visit www.gozney.com/pages/partners for more information about the partnership and gozney.com/products/tom-gozney-roccbox for more information about the Tom Gozney Black Roccbox.

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