Fricano’s Pizza Tavern
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.
In 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.
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