Pica’s Italian Restaurant
Founded in 1948, this Pennsylvania pizzeria’s pies are assembled with the cheese first, followed by the sauce.
Pica’s Italian-born founder, Frank Pica Sr., came to pizza through a natural progression: After working in a bakery and then running his own bread route in Philadelphia, he decided to open up a shop where he could make pizza to sell along his route. He began in 1941 with two to three tables, selling pies steadily by takeout and on his route. By 1948 he’d left the bread truck behind and focused solely on his thriving pizza store.
In 1955, Pica relocated to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, only a few miles from the original locale, and that’s where the shop remains today. Now it’s run by Frank’s progeny—his son, Frank Jr., and his kids, Frank III, Angela and Lori. “Everything runs better with more hands in the business, but I also have a lot of employees that have been with me for many years,” says Frank Jr. “One employee has been at Pica’s since he was making boxes at 14, and he’s 53 now. These people are like family to me.”
It was Frank Jr. who helped grow the pizzeria into a family restaurant. He talked his father into expanding the menu to serve sandwiches, and since then the restaurant has added a variety of items, including steaks, burgers and pasta. But the biggest draw is still the delicious pizza, which accounts for about 50% of sales, says Frank Jr. Pica’s assembles its pizzas a little differently—the cheese goes on the crust first, and the sauce is placed on top of the cheese. And customers like it that way. “Through all of the changes in technology over the years—going from brick oven to conveyor, or from hand-mixing dough to using an electric mixer—the pizza has stayed the same,” he says. “Years ago, it was grueling to make a pizza—and with no air conditioning—but when you stay on top of the product and make it the same every time, that’s the secret.”
Many of Pica’s customers travel from nearby communities just to eat the pies they grew up with—after all, since Frank Sr. abandoned his bread truck, the business has never offered delivery. But, regardless of the store’s continued growth, Frank Jr. still remains proudest of the original product. “When people come up to me, they say, ‘I love the pizza,’” he laughs. “It’s always the pizza.” —Tracy Morin