May 1, 2017 |

Conversation with Salvatore Reina, Francesca, Glen Rock, NJ

By Denise Greer

Francesca Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta

Glen Rock & Elwood Park, New Jersey

Employee-turned-owner Adam Vuksanic (left) and Owner Salvatore Reina, Francesca Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta
Glen Rock & Elwood Park, New Jersey

Francesca’s in Glen Rock opened in 2008. Salvatore Reina (pictured at right) tapped longtime employee Adam Vuksanic (left) to transition into ownership. Reina partnered with Vuksanic to open a second location.


Sal lets us in on the Francesca concept and bringing an employee into ownership

Our concept at Francesca is to combine high-quality food, great customer service and a “family” company culture. These concepts may be fairly obvious, but after almost 10 years in the business, we realize that you must remind yourself and your team day-in-and-day-out this is what makes our place special. This is evident in everything we do.

All of our food adopts the core concepts of freshness, quality and fun. We do NY-style pies in a wood-burning oven. You don’t really see wood-fired pizzerias do pizza by the slice, but we like to be different and love it! Keeping with our Sicilian background we prepare simple food made with fresh ingredients (we even make our own mozzarella sticks). In addition, we embrace the idea that cooking is fun. Sometimes you want to try new things and we quickly realized that our customers agree. Our chicken parm egg rolls are amazing (did I mention I’m also Chinese? I’m super proud to be first-generation Sicilian and Chinese). We let our staff members create their own pies to sell to our customers. We also have a cheeseburger pizza we sell every Wednesday. When a customer comes into Francesca, they have the option of getting the great food on the menu, or see something new on the counter to spice up their meal daily. Studies have shown that food is one of the top three sources of happiness, and we totally agree.

The family culture we have built cannot be understated. Our hiring philosophy is simple: hire good-natured, caring, honest people. Teaching the job is the easy part. Having people inherently care about Francesca and their co-workers is not. In business, we believe there is a misconception that money drives people to work hard. We believe that genuinely caring about the people you work with, getting to know those people and enjoying the people you work with ultimately drives everyone to be the best they can be.

Opening a second location — Admittedly, it was easier than the first one but still a lot of work. One unique difference for us was the use of a gas oven in the second location versus using wood-fired in the first. Modifying the pizza-making process and ingredients to create Francesca quality pizza took time. Opening the second store more than eight years later was really exciting and also nerve wracking like the first. For me personally in the months leading to the store’s opening and thinking back on how watching (partner) Adam (Vuksanic) grow from an 18 -year-old high school student to a 26-year-old pizzeria owner was really incredible. I’m so proud of him and so thankful to him for helping me grow my business and to now call him my business partner is unreal.

Cultivating your staff member to become an owner — A successful pizzeria owner recognizes and embraces a few things:

  1. This job is 24/7/365.
  2. No shortcuts in anything
  3. Care about your staff. They are your family.
  4. Appreciate every single person who steps into your door and the community you work in.

I saw this in Adam. He was about 18 years old when he started working for me. I could tell he really cared and wanted to do a great job, he just needed some guidance. After I saw Adam had what it took to be my manager and potential business partner I taught him the inner workings of the day-to-day and business management. It took a few years for him to understand everything and to realize all the work that is necessary to run the business. After those few years passed and still seeing the passion he had to do this work, I knew he was ready to be an owner.  Adam has always had my back and I will always have his.