Time capsule: Fricano's Pizza Tavern

In the early 1950s, tavern owner Cosimo Fricano (known as Gus) decided thathis menu needed a boost. After seeing a sign that said “pizza” near Wrigley Fieldin Chicago, he returned home determined to introduce this new item in his ownbusiness—but met with little enthusiasm from those around him, including hisSicilian mother, who said, “Americans are wealthy—they want steak. Pizza isfor paupers!” And, at the time, few people in the state of Michigan had evenheard of pizza. “People’s concept of pizza was nonexistent at this point,” saysDoug Fricano, Gus’ son, recalling the original Fricano’s Pizza Tavern (www.fricanospizza.com) opening in Grand Haven, Michigan. “No one knew what itwas. They didn’t even know how to pronounce the word.”

The first few years, Gus gave away more pizza than he sold. He brought pizzasby the armload to hand out to tourists on the beach, but people were generallyconfused about the new creation. Eventually, though, word began to spread,and in 1976 Gus sold more than 1,000 pizzas in one night. That sameyear, Fricano’s opened a second location, in Kalamazoo; today, fivelocations exist, and all are still family-run.

The pizza here is charmingly set in its ways: Only five toppingsare available on these thin-crust, charred-edge pies; they’re cut withscissors instead of traditional pizza cutters; and only one size (12”)is offered. The formula obviously entices the hoards of Fricano’sfans who fill the lines that snake out the door on most nights. Dougclaims that it’s common for the Grand Haven location to sell 800pies in one night—no small feat, considering the town’s modestpopulation (about 10,000). “We’re simple folk,” says Doug.“For us, it’s not about how big we get, but about maintainingthe integrity of what we already have.”