Tracy and Marc Frankel established Pizzicato, originally a one-shop, mom and pop pizzeria, in 1989. Based in Portland, Ore., the eatery has grown from a small operation in the back of a convenience store into a chain of popular pizzerias along the West Coast. Tracy and Marc still own the business today. After 25 years, the duo has established a reputation for high-quality pie. The team of 280 employees currently operates from 17 locations. Most are in Oregon, around Portland, though the crew serves up slices from franchises in San Diego and Encinitas, Calif., as well.
Tracy and Marc have established a successful food service business, although the wife and husband come from unusual backgrounds for this industry. “I was a creative director at an advertising agency,” she recounts, “And Marc worked in sales.” The pair was living in San Francisco, back in the city’s foodie heyday when they met. Marc had grown up in New York and always dreamed of running a restaurant.
Marc took an apprenticeship with Pizzeria Rustica in order to learn more about the business. Not long after, the Frankels moved to Portland, Ore., where they opened the first shop. Even early on in Pizzicato’s history, the pizzeria was busy. While the business was too small to take minimum deliveries from suppliers, the couple purchased ingredients from Costco. Soon, however, Pizzicato’s delicious pizzas began to reel in business.
Building and keeping a reputation
One of the company’s first loyal customers was a friend of the local food editor for The Oregonian, a Portland-based newspaper. The customer recommended Pizzicato to the editor, who stopped in for some pizza. After she wrote a glowing review of the establishment, business at the shop exploded.
As the company has grown, the format has changed. Pizzicato is far more than a take-out joint these days. The brand’s 17 locations offer high-end, dine-in service. The menu has grown, too. Diners can find a variety of appetizers, Panini sandwiches and salads in addition to the pizza selection.
“Portland, Ore., has a strong foodie culture,” Tracy explains. “We have a lot of single celebrity chefs that are big here, which is one form of competition. We have stayed in the game because we are a pizzeria that offers a menu and experience for a more elevated palate. We are picky about our ingredients and make everything from scratch.”
Pizzicato also offers local flavor for the foodie crowd. The restaurants source a large portion of produce locally, drawing from distributors who are connected with local farms. Even the flour is local, sourced from Power Flour of Pendleton, Ore. Customers with dietary restrictions will be happy to find vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu, as well.
Keeping the pie in the sky
When the recession hit in the mid-2000s, many restaurants suffered. Dining out, as a luxury, was one of the first things Americans cut from their expenses. “We learned important lessons about being leveraged during that time,” Tracy explains. “We decided to pay off all our debts after we got through that. We were able to maintain staffing levels and keep the quality of our food high. The silver lining was that this experience really advanced our company culture. We banded together and got through it. We are appreciative of all we learned and how far we have come and we don’t take that for granted.”
Now, Tracy, Marc and the team are looking ahead. Standing behind a quality, local product, the crew is promoting new specials every month and building up a strong business platform. Pizzicato is opening a new location in North Portland and another in the city’s suburbs over the next year or two.
“We are always striving to improve,” Tracy explains. “We rework our training and hiring, all the while nurturing our superstar employees. We have pretty generous benefits to our staff. After one of our employees had been with us for 20 years, we flew him and his family to Hawaii for a vacation as a thank you. We will do the same with any of our employees who reach that milestone.”
Tracy and Marc are incredibly supportive of their staff and recognize that their people are their greatest asset. With a strong team and a big reputation for taste and quality, the business is doing well. Over the coming years of growth, Pizzicato will continue to build upon a foundation of local flavor and a family atmosphere.