Tommy Caruso loved grabbing a slice at Frank’s Pizza in Throggs Neck as a kid. Today, he owns the place and is celebrating yer business’ 50-year anniversary.
Caruso, 54, a Throggs Neck native, said Frank’s was a staple in the community and back in the day people flocked there. While things have not been easy the past two and a half years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant is still standing strong, he said.
“I’m pretty excited,” Caruso said about Frank’s Pizza being in the biz for 50 years. “I’ve worked very hard my whole life and I want to be the best at what I do. Fifty years and hopefully we’ll be here another 50 years.”
Frank’s, located at 4106 E. Tremont Ave., was started by brothers Frank and Ralph Petroulo in 1972. According to Caruso, it was the go-to place in the neighborhood for pizza.
At a young age, Caruso loved two things: cooking and Frank’s Pizza. He worked as a chef in restaurants throughout Westchester County, which helped put him through Iona College in New Rochelle.
Wanting a stable and profitable career, he obtained an accounting degree and worked as an accountant for a couple of years. But it just wasn’t for him, he said.
During that time, he began to hear rumors that the owners of Frank’s were thinking about selling the joint. So, he made an offer, and in 1994, Caruso took over. Frank’s primarily made pizza, calzones and chicken rolls. But upon buying the operation, Caruso wanted to expand the operation.
“I knew how to cook and had business smarts because of college,” he said. “When I took over no one had high-quality Italian food for delivery or take out.”
He jumped right in the kitchen and within a few months, Frank’s introduced things like chicken marsala, chicken Francese, chicken cordon bleu, vodka sauces, seafood and more. Word spread about the expansion of the menu and soon, Frank’s was even more popular, he said.
Caruso told the Bronx Times that pizzerias often get a bad reputation when it comes to food that isn’t pizza. It was his goal to change those perceptions.
“I wanted to show people what good quality food is,” he said. “They (customers) tried it and they were shocked how good it was, and were like ‘wow, this came out of a pizzeria.’”
Business was booming and during the financial recession of 2008 a business next door closed setting up the perfect opportunity for Frank’s to expand. So, in 2010 they knocked down the wall inside the restaurant allowing Frank’s to increase its seating to 50 people.
They were jam packed all the time. Caruso was living his dream and loving life, until the pandemic.
With indoor dining banned in throughout the state, Caruso was hurting. Four months into the pandemic, he realized paying rent for two storefronts wasn’t sustainable.
“COVID killed us because there was nothing coming and it almost destroyed us,” he said. “It was a very scary time. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Are we going to die or catch it?”
While it pained him to do so, he shuttered the second half of the restaurant in 2020. Caruso said since that closure many customers have thought he went out of business altogether.
“I would love to get the word out ‘hey, we’re still here, we just downsized,’” Caruso said.
Caruso said he’s faced other unique challenge over the years — and it’s all in the name.
There is another Frank’s Pizza in Pelham Bay, and people often say go see Tommy [Caruso] for pizza, but mistakenly end up going to Tommy’s Pizza, another pizzeria located on East Tremont Avenue.
Nearly 30 years as the owner have gone by in a flash, he said. Many of his customers came there as kids and now bring their grandkids; others tell him it is their first stop when visiting the Bronx from out of town.
More importantly, this was a second home for Caruso as a youngster and now he’s able to provide the same warmth and delicious food for the community.
“It’s nostalgic to look back,” he said. “I’ve seen this as a kid and I’m the owner all these years later.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes