EricS.

Fricanos-owner

Even his mother doubted people would pay good money for this thing called “pizza,” but Gus Fricano persisted—and gained a bona fide cult following.

Fricanos-crowdIn the early 1950s, tavern owner Cosimo Fricano (known as Gus) decided that his menu needed a boost. After seeing a sign that advertised something called “pizza” near Wrigley Field in Chicago, he returned home determined to introduce this new item in his own business. Initially, though, it met with little enthusiasm from those around him, including his Sicilian mother, who said, “Americans are wealthy—they want steak. Pizza is for paupers!” In fact, few people in Michigan had even heard of pizza at the time. “People’s concept of pizza was nonexistent at this point,” says Doug Fricano, Gus’ son, recalling the original Fricano’s Pizza Tavern (www.fricanospizza.com) opening in Grand Haven, Michigan. “No one knew what it was. They didn’t even know how to pronounce the word.”

During the pizzeria’s first few years, Gus gave away more pies than he sold. He brought them by the armload to hand out to tourists on the beach, but people were generally confused about the new creation. Eventually, however, word began to spread, and in 1976 Gus sold more than 1,000 pizzas in one night. That same year, Fricano’s opened a second location, in Kalamazoo; today, five locations exist, and all are still family-run.

Fricanos-oven

The pizza here is charmingly set in its ways: Only five toppings are available on these thin-crust, charred-edge pies; they’re cut with scissors instead of traditional pizza cutters; and only one size (12”) is offered. The formula obviously entices the hoards of Fricano’s fans that fill the lines which snake out the door on most nights. Doug says it’s common for the Grand Haven location to sell 800 pies in one night—no small feat, considering the town’s modest population (about 10,000).

“We’re simple folk,” Doug says. “For us, it’s not about how big we get, but about maintaining the integrity of what we already have.” —Tracy Morin

www.fricanospizza.com

32 Comments

  1. Ruth RummlerReply
    November 4, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    The worst part about moving away from Grand Haven is that you can’t get Fricano’s. A family tradition and the only place to buy pizza.

    • Brian GahsmanReply
      June 21, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      My name is Brian Gahsman and my father, Dan Gahsman, raised me on this pizza. I am now a hedge fund manager living in downtown Minneapolis and I may just move back to Grand Haven just to have this pizza on tap.

      • Ryan GahsmanReply
        August 3, 2015 at 5:23 am

        amen!!!!!!!!! I hope you see this cuz! I miss this pizza and family time!

  2. Terry BeaseckerReply
    December 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Fricano’s Pizza Tavern is a truly an amazing Pizza Parlor. This Pizza was voted the best pizza in Michigan. Pure Michigan, Michigan’s official Travel & Tourism site, in 2011 announced that Fricano’s Pizza was the winner of its unofficial poll. The place is such an incredible institution that everybody needs to hear the story. Just reading the thousands of comments from their 15,000 Facebook fans is an amazing and heartwarming experience. The incredible taste has compelled a vast number of people to travel over 100 miles sometimes weekly to get their fix. It has been called “The Crown Jewel of pizza parlors” for good reason.

  3. Cassie ShookReply
    January 11, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Fricano’s is the best pizza hands down! I remember going there when I was young with my grandparents. I truly miss it since I moved across the state. When I visit my family, I try to always make a stop at one of the locations.

  4. Al HoekstraReply
    January 11, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    The best pizza on this continent. Love it so . We live in Florida and miss it. I was born and raised in grand Haven and miss that pizza pie.

  5. kristineReply
    January 12, 2015 at 6:39 am

    A great family place – we’ve had many, many celebrations there

  6. Aric BoshovenReply
    January 12, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Fricanos was an absolutely iconic piece of my childhood. I have still to this day never had a pizza that could even compare to their pies. Perfectly spiced, absolutely no extra crust, just an edge made of perfectly toasted cheese. Every pie is a hand-crafted, delicious masterpiece and I find myself craving it every time I even think of pizza. I’d gladly take a single slice of plain cheese Fricanos over an entire pie from anywhere else.

  7. Rosey MayesReply
    January 12, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I have known Fricano’s longer than I have known my husband. I lived in Grand Haven in the mid 1960’s and worked at Gardner-Denver which wasn’t too far away….sooooo, quick and easy + delicious lunch! I fell in love with this “new” lunch. I’ve been back loads of times, but it had to quit when I met and married John. We moved north and Fricano’s didn’t. I’m back in the local area and now Fricano’s has expanded into Muskegon so as soon as I can,….I’ll Be Back!!

  8. Anne ErsfeldReply
    January 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Gram Fricano was amazing. We also need to mention partner to Gus, Tom Fricano, and mom, Gen, and Aunt Pauline , sisters who also were critical to the success. Fond memories of all of them and great pizza still today!

  9. Yvonne Plamondon LindemanReply
    January 12, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Teddy – We love to come to your place for pizza and to party! You always make us feel so special – we love your pizzas and you too! Yvonne

  10. Mary GouydReply
    January 12, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    We have lived out-of-state for over 35 years, but anytime we return to visit family, Fricano’s is on our itinerary! The best!

  11. David GahsmanReply
    January 12, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I have been living in S. America, Colombia….for five years, but seeing this Fricano blog just makes my mouth wáter, and my eyes weep for a Fricanos. Gus was a great guy also.

  12. maryReply
    January 12, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    My whole family is totally in love with your pizza. Whenever my children,who live out of town, come home to visit – you are a must go to place!

  13. Carole Rozanc LakeReply
    January 13, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I have to agree that leaving Grand Haven was hard but even harder was no Fricano’s. No matter where we lived, if people were coming to visit us from GH, they knew they had better bring a PIZZA. And we never flew back to Alaska without at least one pizza in my carry on. My sisters even had 6 pizza sent to us in Georgia. We had a wonderful birthday celebration! I’m looking forward to Fricano’s this summer. Family knows if we are coming to GH, they can see us at Fricanio’s before we even unpack.

  14. William DeMarseReply
    January 14, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    The 9th wonder of the world! Our family has been enjoying Fricano’s Pizza for decades and alway will!

  15. jon wunrowReply
    July 10, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    I haven’t ever been to Fricano’s, and already its the best pizza i’ve ever had. We ordered if for my mother’s funeral and put one pie in her casket so she could enjoy it on her next journey. Once my brother-in-law ate half a Fricano’s pizza and hallucinated for 4 days. He and Jerry Garcia fed Fricano’s to each other while jamming on “Truckin.” What a long strange trip it was.

  16. WilliamReply
    July 11, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I am a pizza fanatic and have eaten at well over 100 pizza places including at Fricano’s Pizza weekly. This amazing pie is orders of magnitude better than any other pizza.

  17. Kathleen KinkemaReply
    July 11, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Best pizza ever! Always a treat to have it when I visit GH.

  18. Jerry A. Wildrom Jr.Reply
    July 11, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    When, standing in front of those hot ovens baking pizzas and dealing with the management and staff at the original Fricano’s location in Grand Haven, Michigan, it didn’t take long to feel and be a part of the pride of giving the people of West Michigan a quality product. Although it was hard work, I’m glad I was part of the history and heritage that is Fricano’s for over 3 years. When given the opportunity to once again after 20 years to work in that kitchen that hasn’t really changed brought back all the wonderful memories. Fricano’s is the personification of what a great pizza joint that is uniquely American.

  19. Chris ChaneyReply
    July 12, 2015 at 1:45 am

    My grandfather Don Van Dyke ate Fricano’s pizza every Friday night, from the opening of the pizza tavern until the day he died. We were raised on it. I live in Wisconsin, and have since I was a boy, but I still have family in Michigan, and Fricano’s is the first meal I have, whenever I go there to visit. There is nothing like it in the world. When the ancient Greeks spoke of Ambrosia, they were, without a doubt, referring to Fricano’s EBA (everything but anchovies). It truly is the food of the gods.

  20. Mary ShantyReply
    July 12, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Finally took my office here in Alamo, MI to taste this delicious pizza. They are hooked now. Grew up in Muskegon and would frequently go to Grand Haven for the pizza. Waiting in the line that wrapped around the corner was not a problem for finally getting this wonderful pizza!

  21. RG HatfieldReply
    July 12, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I grew up on the block where Fricano’s is located in Grand Haven. The senior Fricano’s lived on the street behind our house. Some times on Friday or Saturday nights, we neighborhood kids would sit out back on the steps of the kitchen and Mr Gus would make sure we got a couple of pizzas that didn’t meet his specs — and many that did! Mr Gus was a great friend to all of us. His annual pizza party for the high school football team was reason enough to go out for football! FRICANO’S … Great pizza and even better neighbors and friends. Rgh

  22. L. ReedReply
    July 12, 2015 at 10:58 am

    My now husband, then boyfriend, took me to the Grand Haven Fricano’s for pizza on one of our first dates, with the WARNING..”don’t expect anything fancy”. Oh my gosh, I fell in love with the pizza and with him. It was the perfect pizza and the perfect date. 27 years later, it’s still my favorite pizza and he is still my favorite man!!

  23. dan bReply
    July 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    We’re going in two weeks! Taking ths SS Badger to get there. It’s been several years, can’t wait.

  24. Field ReichardtReply
    July 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    ,y family has been going to the GHFricano’s since it opened. Many stories:

    1/. To make it a complete meal, we always bring a salad. They Welcome this, and normally clean the bowl afterwards.

    2/. We once did a “pizza tasting” at Fricano’s with pizzas purchased at all other pizza places in town, but tasted at Fricano’s. They did not mind. As Gus said, “we know who will wi e is, but we also are selling the beer!”

    3/. When my brother and I were little kids, we did not like it (I know… Hard to believe). My parents would take us, nonetheless, with hamburgers, French fries, milk, and of course the salad we always had. No problem. Tom Fricano’s laughed about it once, telling my parents “your boys will mature, someday.”

    4/. The day of the wake for my mother, at the family home in Spring Lake, we had anticipated about 150 people coming through. We badly under-estimated. When we were about to run out of food, the front door opened, and someone was delivering about 20 pizzas from Fricano’s! Perfect timing, and perfect addition to the evening. We never learned who thought of it, or paid for it, but I suspect,it was Cindy Fricano.

    5/. I know some people who have visited every Fricano restaurant. They are all a bit different, some with menus with a wide selection of food, but all with the same pizza recipe. Those people are writing a review of the experience, and it will appear anonymously soon. No worries. All of the restaurants scored well.

    5/. My partner, from Germany, makes me take him from the airport directly to Fricano’s in Grand Haven, whenever he arrives. He has been known to take half-baked pies back with him.

    If you have not been to Fricano’s, go. Especially to GH. Take a salad.

    You will either love this pizza, or…not. Most of the people I know dream of it.

  25. Lynda AllynReply
    January 25, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    My first ever visit to Fricano’s was in 1987, my boyfriend brought me. We are now married and we have spent every wedding anniversary celebrating at Fricano’s we always order more than we can eat so that we can take home the leftovers ! Love this pizza, it is the best in the nation!

  26. Jennifer KrollReply
    April 28, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Fricano’s pizza is a Rite of passage in our family. Birthdays, anniversaries, or just for a great night out. I have been going here since I sat in their metal high chairs. Just thinking about an EBA (everything but anchovies) makes my mouth water. There is nothing better than the anticipation of their delicious pizza as you are standing outside, waiting in line for a table while pickup pizzas are carried past you and the door opens and you are hit with the incredible smell. Mmm. We order an extra pizza just to have leftovers. I love that the Grand Haven location hasn’t changed at all. No glitz, no glamour, no fads. Just awesome pizza.

  27. Ken RReply
    June 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    It’s OLD and we are still Loving IT!!!

  28. June 13, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    In 1964 when I was 11 years old, I was in the GH hospital for 6 weeks with a broken leg. Tony Fricano (Tom & Gus’s brother I believe, who was a good bit older than me) was in there too, down the hall from me. One night Abbot & Costello meet Frankenstein was on the 11:00 movie. Tony convinced the nurses that he and I should stay up to watch it, and came dragging his blanket down the hall at 10:55.

    A little after midnight (after the bar closed I suspect), Tom showed up with pizza…the first one I ever had. Fifty two years later, Fricano’s is always on my agenda in the first few nights whenever I come to Grand Haven.

  29. Frank SReply
    July 1, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Greasy doesn’t even come close. I’m from Chicago and Michigan doesn’t know pizza.

  30. Denise FricanoReply
    July 22, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    I’m from Chicago too and despite that fact, my cousins make some of the best I’ve ever tasted. They keep it simple and sublime.

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