Frank Pepe’s Heir on Six Months of Lines, Apizza App, and One Year in Boston
One of the world’s best-loved pizzas is actually apizza, the signature coal-fired, mootz-topped style favored in New Haven, Connecticut. And Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana makes, many argue, the best there is.
After more than a year of will-they-won’t-they open here, after a Brookline real estate deal was announced then rescinded, and after ample anticipation, the legendary pie shop finally opened in Chestnut Hill last December.
Founded by its namesake in 1925, Pepe’s is now operated by the third generation. Gary Bimonte, a grandson of Frank Pepe, co-owns the brand with six cousins, and in 2011, they started to branch out from New Haven. The Newton restaurant is the company’s sixth, and the company has made no secret about future Boston-area expansion, too. In honor of this month’s anniversary, Frank Pepe’s has a couple deals going on this month, including a celebration (with free pies!) on Tuesday, December 13.
Boston caught up with Bimonte to reflect on Frank Pepe’s first year in Massachusetts, and to hear what’s new at his old-school company.
Congratulations on one year! What do you remember about the run-up?
[Laughter] It was really incredible. It was a little chaotic for us, pre-opening and stuff. We just wanted to knock it out of the park, so to speak. We got a very, very warm reception from Bostonians and the area people, businesses, and colleges, and things went very, very, very well this year. Our goal has always been to please every guest, whether they’re dining in or taking out. We got a little inundated when we first opened, but once we got our feet on the ground, we were able to accomplish what we wanted to.
Yeah, I remember going a couple times in the early days with lines crazy out the door. How long did the lines last?
Hmm, like the first six months? Actually, we still get a pretty good line, but the really hectic, chaotic part was, I tell ya, right up until schools let out, like June. It calmed down a bit, but it was still busy, and it seemed like it picked up right back where it left off in September. And our staff is more seasoned now, they know what to expect, and they know what’s expected of them.
Back to opening day: Do you remember what the first pie ordered was?
No. I have pictures of our first customer. We did extend an invitation to our first customer, to join us on the 13th. Hopefully, he’s been back since then, but we want to honor him on that day.
Obviously, you guys do what you do, but I’m wondering, have the offerings changed at all?
No. The only thing we did change is we’ve been trying to meet the demand, and we’ve taken steps to alleviate the phone congestion and make takeout orders easier by launching an app [for both iOS and Android operating systems], and online ordering for in-store pickup. We also partnered with the delivery service DoorDash.
Is online ordering a first-and-only for you guys?
That’s a first for us. We’re expanding that to our Yonkers location, and will expand that further into our Connecticut locations also. It seems that’s the trend, ya know? We’re just trying to keep up, even tough we’re an old school, family-oriented restaurant.
What’s your day-to-day like as Pepe’s grows?
I’m up [in Chestnut Hill] a couple times a month, at least. It’s a bit of a drive for me, it’s two hours. They never know when I’m coming in. I’m director of quality assurance, I go in to make sure stores are adhering to recipes, that the quality of product is where it’s supposed to me, and to try to address questions as best I can.
What are some unique challenges, maybe ones you didn’t anticipate, to opening such a storied brand in the Boston area?
Just the general hiccups you have—trying to get quality employees. That’s difficult in all of our locations, just trying to find the right people with the right fit. That’s been a bit of a challenge. I attribute it to the commuting up there, I guess a lot of people don’t have a car, they use mass transit, and we’re kind of off the beaten path, so that’s been a little bit of a challenge. Otherwise, no major issues.
You’re building [your newest location] off I-84 in Waterbury. How is that process going?
The structure is up, they’re starting to frame out the inside, we started to build the façade. We started building the oven, which is about 25 percent complete. We’re looking forward to a spring opening, probably April, hopefully, if all goes well. Of course, build to suit is desirable, because we have a blank box. But we can adapt to certain challenges.
Last year, we talked about how Chestnut Hill was the first of what would be a Boston expansion.
We are looking at some other locations in the Boston metro area. I can’t divulge [where]. I can say more by the end of [next] year, possibly? I really can’t elaborate on that.
Alright. Well, back here to Chestnut Hill. How are you celebrating one year?
We’re giving away free [small cheese pies] Tuesday, December 13. [Pepe’s is also offering free delivery and discounted online ordering in December.] We’re just very very happy to be there. And we’re looking forward to hopefully expanding. The family is happy and honored, and it’s just a great thing.
Free takeout small cheese pizzas, Tuesday, December 13, 1-4 p.m., Frank Pepe’s of Chestnut Hill, at the Mall at Chestnut Hill, 199 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill, 617-964-7373, pepespizzeria.com.