Franco’s Metro Restaurant, Bar & Pizza {1475 Bergen Blvd, Fort Lee; 201-461-9882;} started like many immigrant stories do. It’s founders, Franco and Antonietta, both of whom are Italian immigrants hailing from Calabria Italy, came to the United States seeking a new life with better opportunities. Their business journey started as a love story. They met in Bergen County, NJ and were set up by mutual friends who suspected they would be a match. At the time, Antonietta was a senior at Fort Lee High School and a part-time butcher’s helper at the local Shoprite. She was wooed by a handsome Pizzaiolo (Pizza Maker) who was living in New Jersey but working in Manhattan at the time. They married young like many in those days and started a family while taking a shot at earning their small sliver of the American Pie. In 1972, Franco was still slinging pizza pies in the big city and Antonietta, now a recent High School graduate and working a second job at a bank, uncovered an opportunity that would change their lives forever. While walking home late one night after a busy evening, Franco noticed a small store front located on Main Street in Fort Lee that was occupied by a small pizzeria at the time. He popped in and started a conversation in his native language and discovered that the owners were on the verge of shutting down. He negotiated a deal on the spot that would put him, his wife and his future children in business for decades to come. Fast forward 10 years, 4 children and countless New York-Style pizza pies, the business had outgrown that small location on Main Street and required a larger footprint to operate. Across town, famed developer Fletcher Creamer had broken ground on a new lifestyle center mall that was well suited for Franco & Antonietta’s next step. At first, Fletcher Creamer and his associates were reluctant to lease space to this mom & pop style operation as they were seeking mostly national chains. Franco knew what was at stake and after months of convincing, he was leased a respectable space at the Plaza West Shopping Center where the business operates today.

Franco’s Metro Restaurant, Bar & Pizza has been serving the community since 1972. The couple acquired a liquor license in the early 90’s to better serve its clients. Today the business is primarily run by two of their children, Gene and Melissa. The business has survived 5 decades, 10 US Presidents, 5 Fort Lee Mayors, 4 wars, 3 market recessions and, most recently, the Covid-19 global pandemic. Over the decades Franco’s Metro has sponsored hundreds of children’s sports teams and always made it a priority to put community first by feeding first responders and families in need. Franco’s Metro offers dine-in, outdoor dining, bar seating, carryout, delivery, catering, in-house parties, online ordering and even Korean language versions of their menus to better include their neighbors.

When asked “What has been the most memorable part of being in the restaurant business for 50 years?”

Antonietta replied “Connecting with our customers, for sure. Now that I am mostly retired, I miss seeing and chatting with everyone. I have laughed and cried with many people, I have seen children grow into adults and adults act like children. We have had hardships and successes, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it.”

When asked “What inspired your passion for cooking? Was it your upbringing in Italy?”

Franco said “People always ask me this. In Italy we had no food and no money. We barely had enough beans and pasta to feed ourselves. When we got married, we were still poor just now poor in America. We started Franco’s Metro to provide for our family and feed our kids. I knew about fresh ingredients from living on the farm in Italy, but I really learned how to perfect these recipes while working in the kitchen.”

When asked “You now manage the restaurant as your parents are mostly retired, how can you sum up the past 50 years and what is in store for the future?”

Gene said “I cannot sum up the past 50 years because we are constantly tapping into all the unique things we have learned from being in business for so long and reapplying them today. I am so unbelievably fortunate to have my parents still close to the heartbeat of this business. I find myself tapping into their experiences constantly. While I do find their advisement somewhat conservative, I know it’s because they love my sister Melissa (Assistant Manager) and I and don’t want us to take a misstep. If you read our menu, you will notice that Franco’s is the perfect blend of old-world charm & service with a dash of modern vibe & flavor. As far as the future goes, I can confidently say to expect big things from us. I’m not a stand still kind of guy and know we can build on the sturdy foundation our parents have provided.”