Six decades ago, the landscape of Bird Road was very different. The road was rocky, traffic was the least of anyone's worries, and a retro sign with the name Frankie's Pizza was about the only thing you could see from afar. Fast-forward to today and only one of those things remains the same.
Since 1955, Frankie's Pizza has been slinging pies and delighting locals with square-cut slices. This Saturday, the Italian family-owned pizza joint turns 60 and is celebrating much in the same way its always done -- with a bounce house, a DJ, pizza, and free ice cream and cake. Because what goes better with pizza (besides soda) than ice cream?
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A visit to Frankie's always feels as if you've taken a ride in a DeLorean back to 1955 when the mom-and-pop shop served its first pizza. Coincidentally, that is the same year Marty McFly travels back to and stops his parents from meeting.
Here, the only sign that it's no longer 1955 is the modern cash register -- that and the fact that original owner, Frankie Pasquarella, is no longer around. His daughters Roxanne and Renee now run the show. "I remember I took my first pizza order on his knee," says Renee. "It was pepperoni."
"It was always me and my sister by our parents side like a team," Renee says. While both her parents have passed, their legacy lives on through Frankie's, especially with the celebration of each anniversary. "My dad would put a balloon up every year that said celebrating our whatever number anniversary." Come Saturday, a balloon with the number 60 will soar high above the Bird Road institution. "Getting the balloon always brings back nostalgic memories and I am able to visualize my parents. It's kind of neat but also surreal. I'm now the old person."
While Renee's all grown up now, she's been working at Frankie's as long as she can remember, only leaving for Florida State University, where she missed the pizza sorely. "I must've had Pizza Hut like every night in college. I just love pizza so much that I needed something to fill the void while I was away."
After college, Renee came back and has been working at Frankie's since. "My dad told me go get an education and then you can come back and make pizza with me. He was my best professor, my idol."
Today, half the street is named after the late Frankie Pasquarella, who's dearly remembered with every slice that goes out the door "Nothing's changed. We have people ask us how we stay in business this long and the secret is that we've changed nothing except when we've been forced to." Those changes have come from manufacturer's all of the sudden changing the quality or recipe of their ingredients. "You think nobody notices when you're cutting corners but we've had manufacturers let us down where a cheese will taste different out of nowhere, and then we do a taste test and find out they've changed it so we're forced to adapt."
Although Frankie's is as old-school as old-school gets, it has also adapted to the times by shipping the famous "half-baked" pizza all over the U.S. and taking pies to the streets with a roving food truck. The square pizza slices, however, remain simultaneously doughy, crunchy, and cheesier than most others in town. And priced at a dollar and ten cents for a slice of tomato and cheese, it's like it's still 1955. "I think about how much my paid me and I'm sure I could have called child labor," remembers Renee. "When I would tell him that he'd say, 'No Renee, that was minimum wage then,' which was just about what our pizza costs today."
Frankie's pizza might not be for everybody but it is certainly for almost everybody. "We still get people who won't eat it cause it's cut in squares, but that's the way Northeast pizza was in the heydeys during the depression and my dad brought it down here."
If you still haven't tried a piece, head to Frankie's this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. for the 60th celebration and the mandatory complimentary slice that tops your order. "It's the slice you eat on your way home," says Renee. Only this Saturday, she wants you to have it with her. "Our anniversary always falls on Valentine's Day and you'd think it's not a busy day for us but it's up there with the Super Bowl." Must be because people love pizza, but moreover, they love Frankie's.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha
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