Slice of history

Gary Bimonte’s favorite holidays are Memorial Day and Fourth of July. They allow the Wallingford, Conn., resident the opportunity to make a barbecue or take in a car show. But more important, these are days for him to attend memorial services and show his support for our servicemen and women as well as veterans.

Tradition: It has served Bimonte well as co-owner of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and one the founder’s seven grandchildren. (The rest are also co-owners with varying degrees of involvement. Bimonte oversees daily operations for the business, whose flagship is in New Haven.)

“We’re adhering to the way our grandfather did things,” Bimonte says of the recipe for continuing success. “We use the best quality ingredients we can get. We use his recipes, the same imported cheese and tomatoes, the same locally made sausage.”

No wonder, Pepe’s has been called “America’s Best Pizza” (The Daily Meal) and one of “The Most Influential Pizzas of All Time” (Time magazine).

Patron favorites include the signature white clam pie, which has fans lining up around the block in New Haven; sausage; and the zesty pepperoni — all washed down with Foxon Park Soda. (Try the refreshing White Birch Beer.) Foxon Park began in East Haven in 1923 — two years before Francesco Pepe opened a bakery in neighboring New Haven. Pepe, Bimonte’s grandfather, was an Italian immigrant who worked in a macaroni factory and a bakery. Flattening dough out and topping it with sauce, he began selling it from a cart but couldn’t keep track of who owed him money for his tasty creations. Then his wife wisely suggested that he make the customers come to him.

Thus, the Francesco Pepe Bakery was born. It wasn’t until Pepe moved to what is now the New Haven flagship in 1936 that the company changed its name to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Today, there are locations in Yonkers; Chestnut Hill, Mass.; and Fairfield, Danbury, Manchester, West Hartford and Mohegan Sun — all in Connecticut. Each contains a recreation of Frank’s coal-fire brick oven, which yields the crisp yet doughy crust.

The adherence to tradition that Bimonte speaks about doesn’t preclude innovation and enterprise. To celebrate its 10th anniversary recently, the Fairfield location teamed with Susan G. Komen Southern New England in the fight against breast cancer.

“Susan G. Komen felt like a good fit,” Bimonte says. “A lot of people we know have been affected by cancer.”

Then Pepe’s in Yonkers joined Yonkers Brewing Co. for a pizza and beer fest.

Beginning July 1 and running until the end of September, Pepe’s Pizzerias will be offering its fresh tomato pizza to take advantage of the summer growing season. The pie features mozzarella, basil, garlic and fresh tomatoes in Pepe’s special marinade.

Next year, Pepe’s will open in Waterbury. For the last 10 years or so, Pepe’s has been launching a new restaurant every 18 months but only after careful strategizing, Bimonte says. It’s no accident that the flagship is near Yale University. Pizza and students have long been a winning combo.

And perhaps with a nod to Frank’s pushcart ways, Pepe’s goes where the pizza lovers are.

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