At Frank’s Pizzeria in Croton Falls, family is everything
Frank Lulgjuraj was the first member of his family to graduate from college. The expectation for him, a first generation American, was to go to school and then get a job, preferably one spent working behind a desk.
After graduating from college, Lulgjuraj did just that, landing a job working for an environmental engineering firm doing back office accounting work. The role wasn’t glamorous, but it was steady, respectable and paid a good wage. Lulgjuraj was doing what he had always thought he was supposed to be doing.
In 2008, nearly twenty years into his career, Lulgjuraj, like so many others, was rocked by the financial crisis. His firm consolidated, moving its corporate offices to Denver, Colorado. Employees were given an option: move out west or find other employment.
“I thought, there are people on the other side of the world deciding what my fate is,” Lulgjuraj recalled of that time. “It became clear to me that that’s not what I wanted.”
At the time, Lulgjuraj and his wife Suzana were parents to two young children. As much as Lulgjuraj wanted to simply cut ties with his firm, there were two little people to consider. If he wanted to escape the rat race, he needed a plan.
Lulgjuraj had relatives in the restaurant business. One of them was looking to sell a pizzeria in Brookfield, Connecticut. Lulgjuraj didn’t know a thing about the business of running a pizzeria, but he knew plenty about pizza. As a kid growing up in Queens, Lulgjuraj had spent a lot of time in pizzerias, grabbing slices from the various places that dotted busy Jamaica Avenue. Lulgjuraj’s parents were Albanian immigrants by way of Italy; they didn’t have much money, and pizza was the cheapest way to eat.
Together, the Lulgjurajs decided to take the leap into the restaurant world.
“As consumers, we knew what we expected from any food establishment. It always boiled down to three things: good tasting food, cleanliness, and good people behind the counter. We thought, as long as we do those three things, we’ll be fine.”
The Lulgjurajs took over the Brookfield pizzeria, and by all accounts they were successful. The place, open seven days a week, was always busy, and was profitable. Within a couple years, Lulgjuraj’s relative wanted to buy the restaurant back, and made an offer. The Lulgjurajs sold.
After selling the Brookfield pizzeria, the Lulgjurajs took some time to figure out their next move. The restaurant business, as anyone who has been in it knows, is tough: it’s a seven day a week job, the hours are long and the labor is physical. Also, Frank and Suzana were raising a family.
“It clearly became a decision of lifestyle,” Lulgjuraj said.
Around this time, Lulgjuraj had noticed an abandoned place near the Croton Falls train station. It was tiny, and it was a mess. Still, there was something about it; Lulgjuraj saw potential for a pizzeria. He and Suzana decided to go for it, under some conditions: they would close by 9:00 p.m. each night, there would be no alcohol served, it would be takeout only and they would close on Sundays.
“My father had this saying in Albanian. It translates to, ‘working on Sunday should be for the family, and not for money,’” Lulgjuraj said. “That’s what we decided to do.”
Since the Lulgjurajs decided to open Frank’s Pizzeria in Croton Falls, they have thrown themselves into their business. “We wanted to do it right, get the right systems in place and make it a legitimate business,” Lulgjuraj said. “It makes it easier to service your customers when everything else is done professionally, and then focus on cleanliness, good food and customer service.”
Today, all four members of the Lulgjuraj family are involved with Frank’s Pizzeria. On any given day, Lulgjuraj can be found making pies or ringing up customers behind the register. Suzana always has a friendly smile, even on busy Friday nights when the phone is ringing nonstop and customers are streaming in. Kids Alex, 19 and Ava, 15, help out when they have time off from school.
It was Ava who had the idea for Frank’s to sell ice cream. “When we were laying out the store, Ava was about 9 years old,” Lulgjuraj recalled. “She said, Dad, we have to have ice cream.” Lulgjuraj said the shop was too small for all but the necessities. Still, Ava insisted. “Now, the first thing you see when you walk in is the ice cream,” Lulgjuraj said.
Last summer, the ice cream at Frank’s Pizzeria was voted best ice cream in Northern Westchester by North Salem Post readers.
“It’s the little things like that that make this place what it is - input from my kids and my wife,” Lulgjuraj said.
Today, Frank’s Pizzeria is the place locals call for family pizza night, birthday parties, or quick takeout. “I would have never imagined that this little tiny spot could do so much business,” Lulgjuraj said. The plan was to see if we can pay our bills. It’s been better than that."