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Fort Lee Pizzeria Thrives Through Changing Times

Gene Bazzarelli works at Franco's Metro in Fort Lee. His parents, Franco and Antonietta Bazzarelli, first opened their restaurant on Main Street in 1972. It was then called Main Pizza. Photo Credit: Contributed
Franco's Metro at its current Fort Lee location on Bergen Boulevard in the Plaza West mall. Photo Credit: Contributed
Left: Franco Bazzarelli at Main Pizza in 1972. Right: His children, Melissa and Gene Bazzarelli, working at Franco's Metro at the Plaza West Mall in Fort Lee. Photo Credit: Contributed
Pasta Perfecto (Spaghetti with bacon, chicken, diced tomatoes, vodka Sauce) -- aFranco’s exclusive. Photo Credit: Contributed
Franco and Antonietta Bazzarelli. Photo Credit: Contributed
A slice of Nonna Pizza made fresh daily. Photo Credit: Contributed
Franco's delivers small and large orders directly with no delivery fee. Photo Credit: Contributed

Much has changed in Fort Lee since Franco and Antonietta Bazzarelli opened their pizzeria, Franco's Metro.

The shop's name. Its location. The menu.

But one thing remains constant at Franco's Metro: Loyalty.

Bazzarelli's adult kids who spent their childhoods watching their parents build their family's future are the ones spending upwards of 12 hours a day running the show at Franco's Metro.

And his customers -- both old and new -- turn up at the store at least twice a week without fail sometimes to eat, sometimes just to say hello.

"Our lives are inside of these four walls," said Bazzarelli's son, Gene Bazzarelli, 38, who left his corporate job to work full-time at Franco's.

"Some of the customers we have now we had 30 years ago. On Wednesday, we served a guy in his 40s, and my mom remembers when he was born.

"We're dynamic in the sense that we cater to multiple audiences. That's led to our success story in Fort Lee."

The Bazzarellis anticipate their longtime customers' children will follow in their parents' footsteps back to Franco's Metro. 

Because loyalty runs deep at Franco's Metro. So does quality food.

The Bazzarellis first opened Franco's Metro in1972, months after immigrating to the U.S. from Calabria, Italy.

The shop's first location was on Main Street and it was called Main Pizza. It had six tables and 12 seats.

Like the Bazzarellis, most of Fort Lee residents were of Italian descent. There were some Croatians and some Japanese, too.

The restaurant moved to its current location at Plaza West on Bergen Boulevard in the 80s, bringing its loyal customer base with it.

But that's when its business model was put to the test when Korean grocer giant Hannam opened up in the shuttered Plaza West Pathmark. Bazzarelli saw that as an opportunity to gain new followers.

"If you're not putting out a product your customers know and love," said Bazzarelli, "then you're dead in the water.

"But we have a lot of liaisons in Fort Lee and business trickles down from that.

"If you have good product and trusted sources, then you’ll hit it out of the park."

Franco's Metro began incorporating fresh seafood, sometimes with an Asian-fusion twist.

It went over without a hitch, and now, Franco's has a steady Korean following.

Franco's Metro keeps its menu as fresh as its ingredients, rotating it and adding new specials twice a week.

The original favorites are always there, though -- like the crispy, thin flatbreads, chicken parmesan sandwiches and ravioli.

Bazzarelli says serving Italian cuisine gives Franco's "wiggle room" to get creative.

"We do a lot of fusion dishes -- not just the traditional Italian meals," he said. "Customers appreciate that we don't go overboard."

The restaurant recently began its delivery service, sending multiple trucks on the road each day, and catering service.

Luncheons and staff meetings have become the "bread and butter" to Franco's Metro, which welcomes up to 55 guests for in-house parties.

Bazzarelli doesn't expect his own children to feel the same underlying duty to work for the family's restaurant. He just hopes they find something they're just as passionate about -- and loyal to.

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