The idea of a family-owned business gets tossed around like a flat, flying circle of dough (pun intended). But here in Miami we have Frankie's Pizza, our first and oldest pizza place and the epitome of a family business. The current owners, Roxanne and Renee, are the daughters of Frank and Doreen Pasquarella. The couple opened Frankie's on Valentine's Day in 1955 and it still stands 59 years later serving the exact same square pizzas.
Though Miami has changed drastically in the past six decades -- from dirt roads and everglades to six-lane freeways and high rises -- Frankie's has withstood the test of time, which many 30-some-year customers can attest to. The same light-up sign still persists, the same friendly customer service, and of course, the same square pizzas. Frankie's has commonly been called a time capsule, probably because it has never steered from the Pasquarella way. Roxanne and Renee practically grew up in this pizza shop, so who better to continue running Frank's family heirloom? Ever since they were children, the two helped out in the shop on the weekends and after school, but there was no intention of taking it over when they grew up. In fact, Frank always assumed that one of his nephews would take the reigns. But when Frank suffered from a stroke in 1980, the baking, cleaning and the selling fell on the girls. They received much criticism at the time, being two women running such a labor-intensive business. Nevertheless, Roxanne and Renee superseded everyone's expectations since Frankie's still thrives today, the same as ever. It's safe to say that the Pasquarella sisters have owned Frankie's for a lifetime. So for a glimpse of history, we sat down at the counter top with Roxanne to reminisce on the old days, the now days and Miami's beloved pizza joint.
When did you and Renee become the owners of Frankie's?
Technically when my parents passed away. Even though my father was still alive after the stroke, he lost his speech and his mobility. We went in and started taking over the daily stuff. When he got somewhat rehabilitated, he would come back around, but couldn't physically work. It wasn't until he passed that we technically took ownership, but we don't really own it, it's in a trust. That's when it became ours, but it's been a part of me since I was born.
What was your life like before taking over?
After high school, Southwest High School, I lived in Cairo, Egypt for a while. Then I came back and went on the USO tour because I was a dancer. I was a Dolphins cheerleader too. When my dad got sick, I knew that by keeping the pizza shop going, I would keep him going. That was his reason for getting up every morning; he had a purpose. I went to Miami-Dade, but life got in the way; I took care of my parents, my family and our business. Renee graduated from Florida State and came back to help out also. It was never our intention to take over Frankie's, it just ended up that way.
What were the greatest challenges at first?
I think the most challenging thing was that people didn't think a girl could do something like that because it's a very physically demanding job. A lot of times people don't have faith in children taking over their father's business, especially a father that had been so dedicated to it and so successful. Everyone thought we'd fail. I think proving them wrong was what gave me the drive and incentive to overcome things like that. I can remember people saying, "oh you're dad didn't do things like this." Even though everything I do in life is how he taught me, there was always some people who thought ill of me because I wasn't my dad. That was the hardest thing to overcome, the criticism of customers because I wasn't filling my father's shoes.
When people hear the name Frankie's Pizza now, what do you think comes to their minds?
Square pizza. Longevity. Consistency. And my grandmother's secret Italian recipe. It's a combination of dough, sauce and cheese. There's no additives or preservatives. It's the kind your grandma made back when you were a child, completely from scratch. That's what we do here on a daily basis.
What do you remember during the early years of Frankie's?
Miami was even more gorgeous. You didn't have as many roads, hardly any people, and a lot more trees. Bird Road was just a wide dirt road and now it's all enclosed with shops and businesses. Miami was kind of a touristy town where people stayed in the winter months then left for the summer. We were always closed on Mondays, we still are, because back in the day that was your slowest workday. Sundays were a time when all families were together, so it was beneficial for a business to be open. It was also a luxury to eat out. Moms usually stayed at home to cook dinner and clean up after, so it was a big treat to go out and get a slice of pizza. We always only took cash; we still only take cash.
How have you made Frankie's part of the community?
I feel that we're an anchor in the community. I work with a lot of young people in our business. It's a nurturing environment where they learn not only work skills, but life skills from people that care about them, not just employers. We started a food trailer about two years ago. It's like a mini pizza shop that we bring to events that we sponsor, like Relay for Life.
How important is the "family" aspect of your business?
This little pizza shop is part of the family. We always joke that my dad had two daughters, but Frankie's was his first child. We've always taken care of it like it's part of our family. My son works here; all the young people that work here are like our own. But it is challenging being in a family business. You have to work with your family and be a family at the same time. That balance is sometimes hard, but also gratifying. Even our customers become family. Regulars that have left Miami and come back always stop at Frankie's; they'll even call my cell and say they're on the plane. We started making half-baked pizzas so that they can bring their order home, freeze it, and heat it up fresh for dinner. It became popular because a lot of our customers migrated but still wanted that fresh oven taste. Some even call in and say, "Hi it's the Gallaghers" from Georgia and we'll ship it out immediately. I've even shipped to Alaska and Hawaii. People even take the half-baked down to Mexico, Peru, Haiti and Argentina. I have a way of packing them for an airplane. I wish I could get air miles.
How have you kept Frankie's afloat for 59 years after so many new pizza places have moved in?
Because of the generations of customers we have. For the customers that moved out of Miami, I ship them half-baked so they'll never miss our hot and crusty taste. We tell our customers that's the best way. We've always told them that. The kids can even put it in the toaster, you know, since nowadays kids are coming home and their parents aren't there. If you order a large at the shop, you even get a free slice on top for your car ride home. For a medium and small, you get a half-slice. That was my dad's idea. I even have people who walk in that remember the first Frankie's pizza they ever had with their parents. Now they bring their kids too. It's a generational thing, that's what keeps us floating.
What has changed in the time that you've owned Frankie's?
I would think that because of all the new electronic equipment, people are used to getting everything instantly and everyone is in such a hurry. You can't do that with food. We make our dough through a three-step rising and three-step cooking process. Everyone wants it yesterday, but we can't work that way because it's a product. The pizza shop, thought, hasn't changed one bit.
What would you be doing if you hadn't taken over your parents' business?
I don't even know, I've been doing it for so long. Through all this time, our shop and our product have always stayed the same. Like when everyone started delivering, we don't deliver, we never delivered. People thought we'd go out of business, but we managed to pull through. And online orders, nope, not us. It's a kick back in time for some people and we need that here in Miami. I may have moved north, but as long as I have Frankie's, Miami is my home.
If you could say something to your parents today, what would you tell them?
"That they're missed and that they're loved." You're a team unit when you work a family business, so it's difficult when they're gone. But it's even more rewarding to keep their legacy going. I just had a gentleman in here today that was one of my dad's first customers. The shop was originally across from the University of Miami and he was a student there. He'd sneak our pizzas into the dorms because you weren't allowed to bring food in them back then. Customers like these always have nice things to say about my mom and dad. The hardest thing to do after you lose someone is to work in a place where they are no longer. But now it's become therapeutic. I can still hear my dad 's voice from the back yelling at me, "What are you doing it that way for?"
· All Coverage of Pizza Week 2014 [EMIA]