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Palermo Villa's chief executive grew up in the pizza business

Friday, June 29, 2018   (0 Comments)
Journal Sentinel
Kristine M. Kierzek
 

Giacomo Fallucca’s first and only job started with pizza. He learned to perfect his pizza dough alongside his father, working a long table in their east side restaurant, Palermo Villa.

In 1979, the family took the leap into the frozen pizza business with just four recipes. Fallucca was 18, and he grew the business alongside his father, Gaspare. Today, as chairman and CEO of Palermo Villa Inc., Fallucca oversees more than 400 styles and varieties of frozen pizza produced in a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the Menomonee Valley. 

Fallucca still works with his brothers Angelo and Peter, and he is also a part-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. He never gets tired of pizza, and probably has a few slices in his refrigerator right now.
 
Family firsts
My father’s first job was as a dishwasher at The Pfister. My father, his father, and his mother worked at the Pfister in the kitchen. It was a short time, but they did what they had to do.
 
East side roots
I grew up on the east side around Murray and North Ave. That was my world. Our restaurant was Palermo Villa on the 2300 block of North Murray Ave. Our home was on the corner of Murray and Thomas. … My world involved the bakery, the bank and everything in biking and walking distance. I now live in Shorewood, on Lake Drive just north of Capitol.
 
From scratch to sales
The food in our restaurant, everything was made from scratch. We made our own pasta noodles, tomato sauce. As a kid, I remember carving pork butts with the bone in to make Italian sausage. We’d buy 40 pound blocks of Parmesan cheeses and grate them. I remember peeling 50-pound bags of onions and peppers.
 
First foods
One of the first things I learned is how to mix pizza dough. Our backyard was the back side of the restaurant, next to the East Side Library parking lot. When it was time to make dough, my father would step out the back door and he had this long whistle. No matter what we were doing, we had to come in, because we had to mix pizza dough…

Pizza dough was the first thing, but there is a fast second in making Italian meatballs and sausage by hand. I will still make the meatballs from scratch, but now I buy sausage. 

Building a base
The product that got us into the pizza business was our French bread pizza. We had people waiting at the bar, spilling outside. My father would make up these French bread pizzas, taking a 24-inch long French bread. … We’d add cheese, tomatoes or Italian sausage or pepperoni, put them under our salamander grill, get them crispy, cut them into 1-inch-by-1-inch squares, put them on a platter and send them out to the bar. We became known for our French bread pizzas.

Pizza paves the way
I was 18 when my mom, dad and myself first started the (frozen pizza) business. I have never worked at a different company. 

Coast-to-coast cravings
The East Coast, they’re particular about their cheese pizza. Midwest they’re into sausage pizza. Couldn’t sell that in Florida, Tennessee or the Carolinas.

The top four varieties across the country are pepperoni number one, supreme number two, cheese number three, and a combination sausage and pepperoni is four.

Evolving appetites
Traditional varieties still rule. A really good cheese pizza or pepperoni or sausage pizza, a supreme pizza, that defines 80% of what the population wants.

His pizza pairing
Typically, Fresca. Sometimes it is a really, really cold Leinenkugel’s, maybe a Summer Shandy.

Family-style supper
We still do family meals. Tonight it is at my house. My mom lives in Bayside. She’s 80…We’re having braciole, meatballs, pasta with my mom’s sauce. 

Passing it on
The other thing I’m involved in is the Sherman Phoenix project. Developers JoAnne Sabir and Juli Kauffman are rejuvenating a bank building. It’s going to include retail. 

I put out a challenge to a number of individuals saying I’d like to donate the pizza equipment to start a carry-out business I would not own, but I would help those folks run. Juli said, ‘I have the building and I have the family.’

I meet with them once a week, JoAnne and Maanaan Sabir. They’re partners with their sister-in-law, Monica, co-owners of this pizza place they’re calling Sauce and Spice. 

Last trip he took
I was just in Tokyo and Thailand. My youngest son, Nick, he was in a business class which the last 30 days of the class took place in Tokyo. My oldest son and myself, we decided to meet my son Jasper in Tokyo. 

I love traveling with my kids. We get a lot of inspiration from the food. The first thing we did after our 13-hour flight, we arrived in Tokyo and went to see our pizzas being sold.

What always travels with him
My curiosity and my enthusiasm, and my small sense of adventure. We got into Tokyo the first night, find a place for dinner. It is probably 9 or 10 at night then, and my son says, OK, now what?

I said now what what? My sense of adventure is about half of theirs. 

If he could only eat one thing
Pasta and meatballs. I’ve thought about this a lot. If I were on an island, pasta, meatballs and sauce, I could eat that all day long. 

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