Palermo’s Pizza, a family-oriented business in the truest sense, takes great pride in offering carefully crafted frozen pizzas to share with customers across the US
Nicholas Fallucca is the third generation representative of his family’s business, Palermo’s Pizza. The founders, his grandfather Gaspare, and wife Zina, were born in Palermo, Sicily, from where the company’s name derives. In 1954, his grandparents moved to America, where they lived out the essence of the American dream. “He came here with nothing. He worked as a dish washer, and he did tile work until he saved up enough money to start his own bakery in Milwaukee in 1964, which is where Palermo’s Pizza really started. Five years later, he opened up a restaurant, and took those lovely bakery items, and established a true traditional Sicilian restaurant in Milwaukee,” Nicholas begins.
“My grandfather was full of life and loudness, and a lot of times, we would be at the dinner table, talking very loudly – some might say screaming – but that was just how we spoke, and so, as we thought of a name for one of our brands, we came up with Screamin’ Sicilian. It has this big moustache on the front of the package, and it really embodies my grandfather. It’s a special brand because we’re paying homage to my grandfather, who was this bold personality, with great sense of humor, and passionate about the place where he came from. It has become one of the top brands in the country, and it consistently ranks on the top world pizza list and that was named after my grandfather, but this only happened in 2013, and getting there is the fun part,” Nicholas shares with us.
Once the Palermo’s Pizza restaurant had been established, a close friend of Nicholas’ grandfather introduced him to the concept of frozen pizza, making the suggestion that he try the same. “In 1979, Palermo’s Pizza then started selling frozen pizza across Wisconsin, to bars, restaurants and small grocery stores. By the late 80s, we worked with a company to bring the first rising crust pizza to a national retailer. In 1993, we launched that item with Safeway, who took a chance on us as a small frozen pizza manufacturer to actually launch the product nationwide,” he says.
“If I look at those early years at Palermo’s Pizza, I think that two aspects really stuck with us – the commitment to really great tasting food and customer service. My grandfather would give away the shirt off his back. He turned over the business to my father, because he was such a caring person, although his strengths weren’t in the world of retail. We’ve done our best to maintain his legacy of caring for people, and that has been a really big part of our heritage,” he says.
It wasn’t until 2003 that Palermo’s Pizza began to truly innovate with its product. The company launched its first ultra-thin crust pizza in the country, Palermo’s Primo Thin, and started to dominate the market. “From there, we continued to innovate with unique crust platforms and products that helped us expand the company, so much so that in 2006, we were able to move into our new facility in Menomonee Valley, Milwaukee.”
The new location brought new opportunities, and consequently, the introduction of its new Italian hearth oven, made from marble stone. “It makes these fantastic crusts with great bubbles and cell structure, which are characteristics that you generally don’t get in frozen pizza. The following year, 2007, we came out with our first domestic par-baked crust, and we were ahead of the times on innovation. Our earlier pizzas had kalamata olives, pesto and chicken – all the toppings that are currently trending.”
According to Nicholas, his family’s business is continually invested in exploring ways that keep its name a favorite on the supermarket shelves. “We thought about how we had these great Italian recipes, but the market wasn’t ready just yet. Then in 2013, we launched Screamin’ Sicilian and that really started to make waves in the industry. From there, we decided to continue that true innovation, but tailored it for the consumer tastes at the time. Screamin’ Sicilian differed from other offerings in the market because it is truly a premium craft frozen pizza. We carefully sourced the sausage from the perfect supplier, and our mozzarella is fresh from a local Wisconsin farm. We started to hone in on our manufacturing efficiency to expand on the opportunity to sell in grocery stores across the States,” he shares.
Innovative product launches
By 2015, the company had introduced another craft pizza, with an urban inspired twist – Urban Pie. Taking into consideration consumer feedback, Palermo’s Pizza wanted an item that could be found in a little bistro down the street or at corner restaurants. “So, we launched Urban Pie, which is a thin, pencil edged, pastry crust. Picture a croissant that has been pressed into a flaky, crispy crust that we then top with unique flavors that are free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives and use anti-biotic free meats. Urban Pie is flavor forward with pesto, chicken sausage, uncured pepperoni and truffle mushroom.
“Simultaneously, in 2016, we launched our Screamin’ Sicilian Stromboli. We thought about having our own version of a hand-held item, because every corner spot has a calzone or something similar. Screamin’ Sicilian Strombolis take all the goodness and mouthwatering ingredients from our craft frozen pizza and roll them up into a buttery, flaky crust. It’s hand-held pizza and now, it’s one of the fastest growing items in that category.
“The next year, we just continued to work on growth and innovation, which led us to purchasing the Connie’s Frozen Pizza business – a restaurant brand in Chicago – with a really great rich heritage. It’s become a very strong name for us, especially in the mid-west, Milwaukee and Illinois.”
The business then decided to take Screamin’ Sicilian even further, and under the brand name launched an item called Loaded Pan; a fun and indulgent thick crust pizza addition to the company’s menu. “We found a way to actually bake pepperoni and cheese into the bottom of the crust, and it’s greasy and indulgent in all the right ways. Around 2019, we took Urban Pie, and we decided to develop vegetable-based crusts like sweet potato, cauliflower, and broccoli and cheddar. Personally, I think they’re some of the best crusts we make, and it is really unique offering for someone who wants to add a bit of vegetables to their mix,” Nicholas expresses.
By 2020, the company was well-accustomed to pushing the envelope on refining its product offering, which is why, continuing Urban Pie’s crust exploration, it introduced a hemp seed crust to the market. “We were the first in the country to launch a pizza with hemp seeds. It’s a really great tasting item. We are figuring out the best flavor varieties for it, and the consumer appeal of education of hemp, there is actual functional benefit of it – hemp seeds are a really good protein source.”
Despite such an expansive history, 2022 is looking to be one of Nicholas’ favorite years as new launches have the potential to bring a great source of growth for the Palermo’s Pizza name. “I’m excited about the new Screamin’ Sicilian Loaded Snack rolls – crispy wonton wrappers that we’ve filled with pizza fillings, gooey cheese and pepperoni, and it is such a brilliant combination. Over the last ten years, we have really been changing the possibilities of a frozen pizza, and how the frozen pizza experience can be so much better than what people thought of the product in the past. From now on, we want to see how much further we can take that,” he expresses.
It is clear from what Nicholas has shared that Palermo’s Pizza has always remained true to valuing the customer’s experience. As a result, Palermo’s has created innovative versions of a food item that has been a standard staple for a long time. As the company looks towards the future, Nicholas feels inspired to continue his grandfather’s legacy. “In the next five years, I would like to see this company refine all our networks; from the supply chain, to being the best pizza manufacturer, and then ultimately a better food company overall.
“We’re also passionate about being a great employer. I think that is something I am really proud of: we look at our employees and our team members with the same innovative approach we bring to food creation. This, I believe, gives us a united corporate culture and a great work environment. Particularly over the last two years with the strains of the pandemic – everyone has excelled at keeping each other safe, connected and more dedicated than ever before.”
In conclusion, Nicholas is incredibly proud of the journey his family has been through to bring a convenient and delicious product to American tables. Above all, he is determined to uphold his grandfather’s legacy, and keep the Palermo’s Pizza name a household favorite.