Pizza from the valley

Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley has been a center for manufacturing for more than 100 years, and has been home to some of the city’s best-known heavy industrial companies for much of that time.

The area continues to be home for some of the city’s best known manufacturers, but the mix has changed. Palermo Villa Inc., the makers of Palermo’s Pizza, is a perfect example of the changing face of the valley – its products are well known around the country, are made with locally grown and sourced materials, and are produced by Milwaukee talent.

Palermo’s pizzas sell in the premium end of the frozen pizza market – those that retail for $4 and more, said Laurie Fallucca, the company’s vice president of marketing. The company makes pizzas with four different types of crust, Primo Thin, Stone Baked, Hand Tossed and Rustico.

Palermo’s uses an Italian pizza oven to make its Stone Baked crust, and is the only frozen pizza maker in the country to use an oven with Italian marble surfaces, said Chris Dresselhuys, the company’s director of marketing.

The company makes 28 different pizzas with its four premium crusts. Advances in flash freezing technology over the last 10 years now allow the company to use fresh tomatoes, roasted vegetables, fresh spinach and pineapple on some of its pizzas.

“We can take something fresh to frozen quickly without damaging it, so it retains its fresh flavor,” she said.

In addition to its premium pizza line, Palermo’s also makes a line of frozen pizzas in the value market segment, which usually retail for $2.50 or less. It also makes two types of breakfast pizzas.

Additionally, Palermo Villa is a contract manufacturer that makes premium pizzas for several grocery chains on the east and west coasts, Dresselhuys said. The company does not do any contract manufacturing for any grocery stores in the Midwest.

Palermo’s is cautious with what it will offer to its private label customers that it does contract manufacturing for.

“For our private label customers, they can’t have our recipes (for its premium crusts),” Dresselhuys said. “We’ll make them an ultra thin crust, but it won’t be our recipe.”

Freshness is a big part of Palermo’s reputation for quality, and the company uses local sources for as much of its ingredients and packaging materials as possible, Falluca said.

“All of our hard Italian cheeses are made in Wisconsin, and a portion of our mozzarella is made here,” she said. “Most of our meats are processed in Wisconsin. We get some of our sausage from Chicago, which is close.”

Most of Palermo’s packaging is made and printed in southeastern Wisconsin, and all of its boxes are made from recycled cardboard, Fallucca said.

The majority of Palermo Villa and the Palermo’s Pizza brand are owned by the Fallucca family. Laurie Fallucca’s husband Giacomo and his brother Angelo are the company’s president and chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively. Giacomo and Angelo are the second generation of their family to run the business, and a third generation of the family is now working there.

Palermo’s currently has about 450 employees. The company is in the midst of building a 110,000-square-foot addition to its 135,000-square-foot building. The addition is expected to be complete in March, and it will take about six months for the expanded space to reach full production.

“(The expansion) is us catching up from our fast growth and building out for future growth,” Fallucca said. “We’re expanding our production capabilities and getting our employee accommodations up to level.”

A significant portion of the expansion will grow Palermo’s pizza crust producing capabilities.

“We make a really good crust,” Fallucca said. “Having more capacity will put us ahead of our competition. My father-in-law started in the bakery business, and that passion has been handed down.”

Palermo’s has seen significant growth in recent years, which has continued in the sluggish economy. For the 52 week period that ended on Nov. 27, the company’s sales grew 11 percent, according to A.C. Nielsen.

“Of the top 10 (frozen pizza makers), we’re one of only two that saw positive growth (this year),” Dresselhuys said. “We’re the number six manufacturer of branded frozen pizza and we’re poised to overtake some of the competitors ahead of us.”

Palermo Villa Inc.
3301 W. Canal St., Milwaukee
Industry: Frozen pizza
Employees: About 450

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