Time capsule: Fricano's Pizza Tavern

In the early 1950s, tavern owner Cosimo Fricano (known as Gus) decided that his menu needed a boost. After seeing a sign that said “pizza” near Wrigley Field in Chicago, he returned home determined to introduce this new item in his own business—but met with little enthusiasm from those around him, including his Sicilian mother, who said, “Americans are wealthy—they want steak. Pizza is for paupers!” And, at the time, few people in the state of Michigan had even heard of pizza. “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.” 

The first few years, Gus gave away more pizza than he sold. He brought pizzas by the armload to hand out to tourists on the beach, but people were generally confused about the new creation. Eventually, though, 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 who fill the lines that snake out the door on most nights. Doug claims that 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,” says Doug. “For us, it’s not about how big we get, but about maintaining the integrity of what we already have.”