The story of Federici’s, the legend of thin crust pizza from NJ, 100 years in the baking industry

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Three Franks, a guy named Spat, a well-kept dough recipe, several devastating fires, Bruce Springsteen, 100,000 pizzas a year.

Plus, no credit card and no delivery. Already.

And let’s not forget the bootlegger.

This is the story of Federici’s at Freehold, a Jersey thin crust legend who is celebrating his 100th birthday this year.

“My grandfather was a bootlegger,” says co-owner Mike Federici. “I have a feeling that’s where he made his money. He was a regular bootlegger, getting caught constantly. He was fined $ 700, paid the fine. Fine $ 500, paid the fine. It was a lot of money back then.

Federici, wearing an orange polo shirt and black Federici’s face mask, sits in one of the booths at Main Street restaurant. The pizzeria is just starting to come to life. A handful of patrons stroll through the front or back entrances, looking for seats inside or on the sidewalk patio.

The restaurant closed for about a month after the March 2020 closure, but has tripled its take-out business since then. A fire in 2018 caused extensive smoke damage.

“It was terrible, we faced it for months,” says Lauren Federici, wife of co-owner Dave Federici, Mike’s brother. “Every paper product had to be thrown away. The unopened boxes of straws smelled of smoke.

Staff shortages, fires, rising product prices, pandemic: nothing seems to be holding back Federici.

Entrance to Main Street, Federici’s, Freehold (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

The business officially started on July 1, 1921. Mike and Dave Federici’s grandparents, Frank and Esther Federici, purchased the Wolcott Hotel from Freehold for $ 23,000, preparing meals for their residents in a small kitchen. Frank came to this country from Italy at the age of 15. He started out as a dishwasher in a restaurant in New York City, before moving to Montclair and then to Freehold.

In 1932 the hotel lounge became the bar, which it remains today, and in 1946 Esther and Frank’s sons Frank and Dante returned from war service and built a new kitchen. and introduced what was then called tomato pies.

But not after spending months experimenting with different flours and recipes.

Finally, they agreed on a recipe.

“They put the pizzas on the bar, just to see what (the customers) were thinking,” says Pat Federici.

The pizzas, which then cost 75 cents, were an immediate success.

The legend of Federici's thin crust

Pat Federici, Matt Federici, Dave Federici and Lauren Federici on a stand in the restaurant (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

A 1950 fire destroyed the upper floors of the hotel, but the restaurant on the ground floor was spared. Frank Federici, the son of Esther and Frank, was known as Spat, after the popular shoe covers in the early 1900s. Born in a room upstairs at Wolcott, he acquired the nickname after going to the movies with friends and asking what a character was wearing. “Spats” was the answer. Spat would fall in love with Patricia Cook, who worked at Connie’s restaurant in Farmingdale.

“He was a joker,” Pat Federici recalls. “He liked to be funny. There was a phone booth at Connie’s. He was calling. He was like, ‘I’m coming to Connie’s, I drink coffee and I don’t like coffee at all. I just want to sit down and you. to concern. “

He proposed to her in his Pontiac in Deal Lake in June 1955 on their way to a meeting at Peterson’s in Lakewood. The two married in 1956 and Frank’s father, the hotel owner / former smuggler, gave them a $ 500 bill as a wedding present. Pat and Spat would have seven children. After their return from service, Spat and his brother Dante helped run the restaurant, known as Frank’s Italian-American Restaurant, and later Frank’s Bar and Grill. He would not become known as Federici until 1959, according to a family timeline. Spat died in 2009.

The legend of Federici's thin crust

Frank’s Restaurant in Freehold, which will be renamed Federici’s in 1959.

Today Pat Federici and his sons David, Michael and John each own 25 percent of the business. Another brother, Frank, runs Frankie Fed in Freehold Township. Scott Hansen and his parents, Margee (Pat Federici’s daughter) and Pat Hansen run Federici’s in Belmar.

“His responsibility is the cannoli cream,” Michael says of his mother. “She makes the best cannoli cream.”

On July 1, Federici organized a 100th anniversary party in the district parking lot at the back. Tickets cost $ 10 and all proceeds went to the Police and Fire Departments and Freehold EMS. The grand raffle prizes included a timeshare week in Aruba and one pizza per week for two years. All this year they have been giving away t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and other items. The 100-year span was a big deal.

The fourth generation of Federici is already in place: Matt and Shanna Federici, children of Lauren and Dave; Brendon Federici, son of Mike and Nicole; and Katie and Dante Webb, children of Tricia and Gio Webb.

The legend of Federici's thin crust

Bruce Springsteen with part of the crew at Federici

Famous clients of Federici over the years? Number 1 on the hit list is Bruce Springsteen (two pictures of him hang on the walls.) The Boss stops by about twice a year. Broadcaster Jim Nantz, who grew up in Marlboro, is a fan; he stopped at the end of August on his way to a golf tournament.

“Anytime I’m somewhere within 100 miles of Federici, I come,” Nantz said in video recorded that day; you can find it on Federici’s Facebook page. “I love this family. I have known them for over 50 years.

“We have a lot of reality TV stars, from ‘Jersey Shore’ Bravo,” said Matt Federici. “Nothing like Bruce, nothing (at) that level.”

NBC News meteorologist Dylan Dreyer from Manalapan hosted his baby shower at Federici’s in 2016.

The legend of Federici's thin crust

Federici’s co-owner Michael Federici in the restaurant kitchen (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Mike and Dave Federici are happy to talk about sourcing pizza ingredients – sausages from Excellent Meats in Toms River, cheeses from Performance Food Group (Roma Food became part of PFG in 2008). But dough is a place they won’t go.

“It’s our secret,” said Mike, suddenly speechless.

The pizzas are cooked in saucepans, in a double oven process. About six minutes at 430 degrees in a conveyor oven, then four-six minutes at 550 degrees in a brick kiln.

Pepperoni is the world’s most favorite garnish, but not at Federici. The restaurant uses twice as much sausage as pepperoni.

About 2,220 pizzas are prepared each week. The restaurant also processes 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of cheese and 300 pounds of chicken each week.

Federici’s is more than just pizza. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, seafood and pasta. The best-selling dish is chicken parm, followed by special lasagna (with ground beef and sausage) and penne vodka.

The legend of Federici's thin crust

Sidewalk patio at Federici’s (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Although as old school as they come, Federici has appeared to pivot well during the pandemic. Its curbside pickup relied on runners following orders with walkie-talkies.

But those hoping the restaurant will offer delivery and accept credit cards at some point shouldn’t hold their breath.

“The delivery will never take place,” says Mike Federici with conviction. “We can’t keep up with what we have now. Our cuisine is at its best.

Credit card?

“Right now I would say no, but I would consider doing it someday if business started to fall or if we became a fully credit-driven company. But for now, the answer would be no. “

One hundred years in business, especially as a restaurant, is a rare achievement. How did Federici do it?

“Product”, replies Dave Federici. “Started with the best thin crust pizza. Always is. Decent location, right in the city center. Family friendly. Good service.”

One hundred years in the books. Will Federici last another 100?

“One hundred percent,” says Pat Federici with a smile.

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Peter Genovese can be reached at [email protected].

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