MILWAUKEE (WTAQ) - He turned a small restaurant into one of Wisconsin’s best-known frozen pizza giants.
Jack Fallucca, the founder of Palermo’s Pizza in Milwaukee, died Thursday from natural causes. He was 82.
Close friend Henry Piano said Fallucca was, “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known in my life – an immigrant who lived the American dream.”
He was an immigrant from Sicily, where his wife Zina was born near Palermo. Fallucca moved to Milwaukee in the 1950’s, starting as a hotel dishwasher and working in construction before his family opened an Italian bakery in Milwaukee in 1964.
The Palermo Villa restaurant opened five years later, and it served celebrities like Frankie Avalon and James Darren. Fallucca sold the restaurant in 1979, and his family started the frozen pizza business from a former Milwaukee bakery where they made the sauce and the sausage from scratch.
They introduced 12-inch pizzas a few years later – and the operation grew over the years. It’s now in a 250,000-square foot plant in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, where 500 people work.
Recently, Palmero’s became engaged in a labor dispute dealing with immigration issues, and efforts to start a union.
A recent Nielsen survey showed that Palermo’s is now the 5th-largest frozen pizza company in the U.S.. Funeral services for Jack Fallucca will be held Saturday in Fox Point.