Franco’s: A Family Restaurant
By Rachel Coleman
Photos by Mike Bloom
“It’s a nice family business,” said Franco LoPiccolo. “We treat everybody as a family member—every single customer. And we do anything to make them happy.”
Walking through the front door, it’s hard to say which greets you first—the tantalizing aromas from the kitchen or the warm welcome from the staff. This is Franco’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant, located in the Thruway Plaza in Walden.
“Everything is homemade. We make everything here, even our own bread,” said Franco.
While the restaurant does not serve breakfast, they do offer a full lunch and dinner menu in addition to their trademark pizza and bustling catering business. This year they also added a full bar and patio onto their building.
“It’s a busy place. I’m always making pizzas. I’m always here making pies. And even if I’m off, I’m here,” laughed Franco.
Franco has been making pizza for 33 years—and after all that time, creating a pizza from the first moment stretching the dough to seeing the smile on his customer’s face—is still his favorite thing to do.
As a child, he never envisioned that he would be the owner of his own restaurant—or move halfway across the world to realize that dream.
“I came here with my dad from Italy, back in 1985,” said Franco. “We just came to explore, actually. I was only 15 years old. I loved it and I ended up staying.”
Franco’s father was a state trooper and had finally been talked into visiting the United States by some family friends that lived in Indiana.
“We were supposed to stay for a year and then go back home,” said Franco, adding that his father returned home after about eight months, but Franco had fallen in love.
“The friends we came to had a pizza business, so we got into the pizza business right away. I loved to make pizzas. I knew right away it was my thing. Oh, I loved it. And I still do love making pizzas,” said Franco.
Franco was also taken by the country, loving the freedom he found in the United States and the different lifestyle.
“We came from a small town, a very small village. There was really no future. I knew I had opportunities here. I had a way to make something for myself and I decided to stay. I don’t regret it,” said Franco.
At just fifteen, Franco left his family and homeland behind to live with family friends in America. As could be expected, his mother was upset by the decision and called often, pleading with him to return home, but he stood his ground, despite his love for his family.
“I’m really close with my family and I keep in touch with them,” said Franco, saying there’s not a day that goes by where they don’t speak to each other through Skype.
Franco’s parents used to visit him once a year, but as they’ve grown older he has been the one to travel. He went back last year for their 50th wedding anniversary.
“That was nice. I got to walk my mom down the aisle. I’ll go back next year to visit again,” said Franco.
For a few years, Franco worked for the pizzeria that had inspired him, following the owner as he opened up a slew of pizza shops “all over the place” from Indiana to Tennessee. Eventually, the owner purchased a pizza shop in Kingston and moved his family and everyone that worked for him to Ulster County.
“I always stayed around here. I always liked the area,” said Franco. “When I was 24 years old, I decided it was time for me to get into business for myself.”
Franco checked the local newspaper and saw that there was a pizza shop for sale in Pine Bush. “I went and looked at it and fell in love with the area. I bought the pizza shop and I’ve been here ever since.”
After 17 years in Pine Bush, Franco opened the restaurant in Walden. It’s been 11 years since they opened their doors in Walden and Franco says business is good. The restaurant often has customers waiting outside on the weekends. Earlier this year Franco had an addition put on to the building so that they now offer a bar and patio.
“I think it’s different than the other pizza shops in the area,” said Franco. “And we have the best food. And good service.”
In addition to their pizza, Franco’s offers a range of appetizers, from chicken wings to mussels or stuffed mushrooms. They also serve salads, subs, calzones, burgers, wraps, baked dishes like manicotti, and dinner entrees like chicken marsala.
Some of their dishes are also available for large groups as they cater parties, graduations, baptisms, and other special events.
“Everybody in town comes here. I know everybody and everybody knows me,” said Franco. “I love it. I love to be here. I love the area, I love our customers, I love the people around here. I almost moved to South Carolina about 10 years ago and I’m so happy that I never did. The best thing I ever did was just to stay here. I couldn’t leave. I would miss everybody if I left.”
Franco has passed his love for pizza and the family restaurant on to his children. His daughter Antonia works at the restaurant as does his son, Channing, who is his “pizza guy” and can sometimes be seen hand-tossing the dough.
“He’s been doing this ever since he was 13 years old,” said Franco, adding that his son is now 27. “He’s been helping me out since then and now he’s in the pizza business. He loves it.”
“The rest of the crew is like family. Most of them I’ve known since they were little kids, some of them I’ve known since they were born,” said Franco.
Franco said one of his waitresses has been working for him since 1995, when he was in Pine Bush. Now, her two daughters have joined the staff.
“It’s like a big family,” said Franco.
He added that the restaurant in Walden has always been good to him and he couldn’t ask for anything more.
“I always wanted to have something like this. I didn’t believe—I didn’t think I would have a place like this,” said Franco. “I’m so grateful. I’m so happy. This is all I ever wanted.”
Franco’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant is located at 74 Oak Street, in Walden.