Franco Patrizi isn't sure if he owns his pizza business or if it owns him, but he woundn't have it any other way.
The chance to run his own pizza, pasta and sandwich place is the American Dream come true for Patrizi, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young Italian with high hopes. "Everybody who comes to this country ... for the most part that's what they're looking for - a better life," he said. "They Want their own place."
Having one's own place comes with a price: Patrizi works long hours, Tuesday through Saturday. But he doesn't seem to mind. "I don't do things just to do things, I do things because I love to," he said, tossing a raw pizza crust around his knuckles like a well-oiled machine and speaking with a smooth Italian accent. "It's not just, you know, making pizza. I put my heart into it."
Plastered with photos of children and other decorations, the aroma of freshly baked dough and rich tomato sauce permeates the restaurant. "He's the best pizza in town," said Peggy Barrett, who works in the city tax office. "He's very hometown."
Despite a steady stream of local customers, many of whom seem to know Franco personally, he sees the possibility of hard times ahead. As a small business owner, he is something of a canary in the coal mine, feeling the effects of nationwide economic ups and downs. Prices of foods such as cheese and flour have been steadily increasing over time. It's difficult to compete with chain restaurants that buy ingredients in bulk at cheaper prices. "It's a little tougher," he says. "Like anything else in life, big business is going to take over for the little guys. But you gotta do what you gotta do - keep going." He says his Christian faith helps give him the strength to continue working hard and enjoy it. "You've got to believe in something in life. Believing in the Lord gives you the health and the opportunity to keep going."
One perk of owning your own business is that you can listen to whatever radio station you want, Patrizi says, and his options have increased with the advent of streaming feeds on the Internet. There's always music playing in the background as he and his staff work the ovens, and it helps lift everyone's spirits and makes the work that much more enjoyable.
In August of 2019, Franco's Pizza was forced to close its 4464 River St. restaurant, near the center of Milford, where it had been located for 28 years. The new owners plan to convert the property into a parking garage, retail store and apartments. Two months after closing, Franco's Pizza reopened at its new location: 11 Berwyn St. in the Devon section of Milford. On the day they reopened, there were hugs all around as the pizza orders started coming in.
The new location is tiny but cozy, with family pictures adorning the walls. The kitchen is more spacious, giving Franco extra space to work his magic, as Franco's wife Angela takes pickup and delivery orders over the phone. "It's very good to reopen," Angela said. "All our regulars are excited. I never thought I'd say I miss work, but it was a big transition and a big financial strain. Most of all, we missed the customers – they're like family."
"It's better than Pepe's or Modern," said regular Bill Copeland of North Branford, who left a business trip in Boston a day early to be at Franco's on its opening day. Copeland says the only reason Franco's is not as famous as the pizzerias in New Haven, or Zuppardi's in West Haven, is because they are a small place in Milford without a lot of publicity. "I couldn't wait for it to reopen," he said. Regular customer Jay Reason of Milford said he's waited for this day. "You can taste the high quality of the ingredients. It's better than Pepe's – I bring my New Haven friends here."
Years ago, Franco's Pizza was open seven days a week, but now it's closed on Sunday and Monday so they can spend more time with family, Angela said. She and Franco, who live in Milford, are from Italy. They met here and have five children. Angela, who doesn't have an accent, came here as a youngster from the small town of Alife, Italy; Franco left Frosinone, Italy, at 17 to go to culinary school in Bermuda where he worked for a time before coming to the United States in his early 20s.
Fans of Franco's pizza say that, aside from using high quality ingredients and knowing how to combine his flavors, Franco makes art on the actual pizza itself with the spreads and toppings. "He's always wanted to not send anything out less that he wants it to be," said kitchen helper Jason Baker, a college student.
Resident Patty Funaro who years ago frequented Franco's Pizza when her family lived near downtown Milford, said they switched pizza places after moving, but she's thrilled to have Franco's back in her current neighborhood. "I'm thrilled that they're opening - I remembered how good they are," Funaro said.
A mere five months after the move, the country was hit by the COVID19 pandemic. Through the lockdown in the state, Franco kept the pizzas coming, much to the relief of customers. The dining area is closed to customers for now, but orders for pizza can either be delivered or they can be picked up at the restaurant entrance.