Time Capsule: Pica’s Italian Restaurant

""Pica’s (picas-restaurant.com) 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, but by 1948 he’d left the bread truck behind and focused solely on his successful pizzeria. In 1955, he relocated to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, only a few miles from the original locale, and that’s where the shop remains today, run by Frank’s progeny: his son, Frank Jr., along with 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 here since he was making boxes here at 14, and he’s 53; 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 remains the pizza, which accounts for about 50% of sales, says Frank Jr. “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.”

Now Frank Jr. looks toward opening a second location in the next couple of years, since many of his customers travel from nearby communities just to eat the pies they grew up with (still assembled with the sauce on top of the cheese)—after all, since Frank Sr. abandoned his bread truck, the business has never offered delivery. But, regardless of the business’ continued growth, he still remains most proud of the original product. “When people come up to me, they say, ‘I love the pizza,’” laughs Frank Jr. “It’s always the pizza.” –Tracy Morin