Brother and sister Eric and Nicole Hurley are the new owners of Frankie’s Famous Pizza in Gilbert. Their influence is simple — their Sicilian grandfather, and memories of the food he used to make for the family. “I’ve always wanted to open an Italian restaurant,” says Eric. “My grandfather wanted one, too. Watching him cook, as we grew up, developed in us the love of making authentic Italian food for others.”
Like any good restaurateurs, the Hurleys knew they wanted to feed people.
“We toyed with canning or making stuff we could sell at the farmers’ market,” says Nicole. “But it was always food. I personally love cooking and create recipes for fun. Initially, starting a restaurant from scratch felt daunting. Then Frankie’s [space] opened up, we took a look, saw the possibilities, and everything fell into place.”
Even their mom dreamed of opening a restaurant. “I think my grandpa passed the desire to all of us,” says Eric.
Frankie’s offers pizza, yes, but you don’t have to commit to a full pie. Diners are encouraged to try slices for $3.49, even specialties like the veggie or chicken Alfredo. But the Hurleys are certain that once you try a slice, you’ll invest in a full-size New York-style pizza.
That’s not to say it’s all pizza around here. Frankie’s offers the usual Italian-joint desserts: Cannoli, tiramisu, cheesecake, and chocolate cake. Stay tuned for authentic Italian cookies, though.
“In a large portion of the east Valley it’s hard to find really good Italian cookies in big quantities,” says Nicole. “We’d like to offer them by the pound. It’s still a work in progress.” Nicole’s favorite Italian cookies are baci di dama, hazelnut sandwich cookies with chocolate filling and those, “chewy, delicious amaretti cookies,” she says, putting the emphasis on the double T.
“That’s something my grandpa always had, cookies,” says Eric. “It’s funny. They are the worst cookies when you’re a kid because they are not too sweet and have no frosting. But as an adult, you can’t get enough of them.”
Other menu items include subs, pasta dishes, and wings.
“Look, every Italian thinks they have the best sauce and meatballs,” says Nicole. “I know that’s a generalization, but Italians love to cook for people. It’s a way to bring everyone together. Plus, you think your recipes are the best. It’s just the way it goes. Mom was one of those. She loved sharing food with people and thought her meatballs were the best. Well, her meatballs were the best.”
Though the new owners have changed every menu item from the previous operation with the exception of the garlic knot sauce, the restaurant’s name remains the same. “Initially, we wanted to name it after our grandpa, but Frankie’s has a good reputation,” says Eric. The interior remains the same, with the addition of new tablecloths.
Nicole does all the sauces and meatballs. “I am here every day to do some sort of cooking or marinating. Because we are so small, we have to be open to doing everything,” she says. “I make food, wash dishes, clean bathrooms.”
The dough recipe is also Nicole’s. “Eric and I make and process the dough every other evening,” she says.
This brother and sister duo have always been close. Nicole, the older sibling, would find a job and recruit Eric to work for the same company. “And finally, this is just where we are. Here together,” she says, beaming.
They took over the restaurant in mid-December 2019, and hosted their first family Christmas party there. “We just couldn’t leave the restaurant, so we brought the family to us,” says Eric.
The spirit here is true teamwork. Nicole gets in around 8:30 a.m. If they have been busy the night before, she sends everyone home. “I’ll take care of the dishes in the morning.”
Eric plays a bit of quality control. “Sometimes, I sit in the dining room and watch how the front counter interacts with the customers or the kitchen gets the pizzas out. That way, I can coach people,” he says. “But when we get busy, I also jump in back and make pizza.”
The staff is told to treat people as guests in their home. Just like at home sometimes you wash the dishes, sometimes you greet people.
“Eric and I are family,” says Nicole, “but I want the rest of the team to feel like family, too. I was so proud when someone asked one of our employees, ‘Are you guys all family?’ and she said yes.”
The Frankie’s Famous Pizza dining room, complete with new tablecloths.
Both Hurleys work outside of the restaurant as well.
Eric has a full-time job. He does zoning for a cell tower company. When he leaves work at 4 p.m., he comes to the restaurant and works until close. Nicole is a mother of two boys, ages 5 and 8, and goes to school full time for sonography. “I bring my little one to work in the morning. He runs around here and does karate.”
Both Eric and Nicole have noticed that despite the amount of work the restaurant demands, they want to spend every spare moment working at Frankie’s. They are proud of it.
“We make everything from scratch. No frozen dough or precut vegetables here,” says Nicole. “We stand behind our product, yet remain open to constructive criticism. We want this place to be people’s neighborhood pizzeria.”
At this time, Frankie’s offers catering, takeout, and no-contact delivery.
Frankie’s Famous Pizza
1561 North Cooper Road, #101, Gilbert
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 4:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday
Note: The posted hours are shortened because of the coronavirus.