No Plan B for Palermo’s, Only Plan A

Giacomo Fallucca

The Fallucca family doesn’t believe in Plan B when it comes to launching business.

Some business thinkers believe that the initial business plan — Plan A – never survives contact with the marketplace, so entrepreneurs must be nimble in making adaptations, in getting to clear air and Plan B.

No so much with Gaspara (Jack), Zina, Giacomo and Angelo Fallucca. Parents Jack and Zina arrived in Milwaukee in the late 1950s after emigrating from Palermo, Sicily and only had Plan A when they opened Palermo Villa bakery on the south side of Milwaukee in 1964.

Jack would work 16-hour days, starting a 10 at night. He would sometimes sleep in the bakery on the flour sacks. He and Zina made the business work so their three boys could have a better life.

Giacomo, now president and CEO, said, “He was not going back to Sicily. Failure was not an option.”

That work ethic and single-mindedness prevailed when the Jack and Zina opened an Italian restaurant in 1969 and again when they moved in manufacturing of frozen pizza in 1978. Those expansions – Plan Bs if you will – came only after success with Plan A, not as an alternative to Plan A.

The idea for a pizza business came from the success of serving pizza at the bar while people were waiting for tables in the crowded restaurant. Such innovations became a hallmark for the family business.

The company has an R&D department that has come up with products like the first crust that rise when baking, thin crust pizza, ultra thin crust and new flat bread pizzas. With more than 400 recipes, its sales are now more than $200 million a year.

Angelo and Giacomo stepped into the business as pizza sales took off. Giacomo recounted the family history as he accepted the George Dalton Inspirational Entrepreneur Award from BizStarts Milwaukee this week.

Palermo’s Pizza now operates in an 110,000 square foot factory on Canal Street in the Menomonee Valley. “It’s a great place to be.” Many of its 430 employees are drawn from the south side.

The success of the Falluccas proves once again that it’s entrepreneurs who reinvent the economy. It also reinforces the practice of many angel investors who will only put their money behind passionate, driven people.

Giacomo said fear of failure still drives the brothers: fear of not hiring the best people, fear of not creating a business where people can do their best and fear of not delivering the best products.

They have adopted Jack’s famous quote about his pizzas as their company tag line: “Dat’s da Best.”

Giacomo credited city officials for its assistance in locating in the Valley, once a cemetery for old industrial buildings. He said he was happy to part of the regional strategy, for which one of the targeted export industries is food and beverage manufacture and processing.

The company is growing at about 15% per year and expects to hit $400 million in sales in five years. Dat’s not so bad.

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