Frank Pepe's Gets Fired Up For Mohegan Sun Opening
By Brian Hallenbeck Published on 5/31/2009
Buy Photo By Cheryl Albaine
Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe Bruce“Two Dogs” Bozsum, left, and Francis Rosselli of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana fire up the brick oven for a smudge ceremony Thursday at Mohegan Sun Casino.
Mohegan - It's a good bet that Francesco Pepe never imagined that one day they'd be burning cedar leaves and acorns in the brick oven of a pizza shop bearing his name - Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana.
In a casino no less.
In fact, when he opened his New Haven store back in 1925, Pepe likely had little inkling that it would become the standard-bearer of an old-world style of thin-crust pizza whose devotees queue up outside the store and along Wooster Street in the Elm City's Italian section. Even by the time he died in 1969, he wouldn't have expected his heirs to eventually open four other locations and hire a CEO to run Frank Pepe's Development Co.
But it's all coming to pass. And that's why Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, came to bless the oven Thursday in the Frank Pepe's under construction in the Casino of the Earth at Mohegan Sun. It's Pepe's third “satellite” location, following the opening of stores in Fairfield (2006) and opposite the Buckland Hills mall in Manchester (2007). The fourth is scheduled to debut this November in Yonkers, N.Y.
Bozsum, performing a “smudging,” lit the oven and then joined Francis Rosselli, Frank Pepe's grandson, in adding coal to the fire, starting a process that will culminate in the store's opening on or about July 1.
”You like to take a month to cure an oven before you start cooking in it,” the 57-year-old Rosselli said. “It pulls the moisture out of the bricks and prepares the oven for optimum baking. We learn about the oven during the process. It might need some tweaking.
”We'll have someone here every day to fire it up,” he said. “We'll let it burn out, let the heat go down and then start it up again. It's like breaking in a new car.”
In the back, the kitchen has another oven, which says a lot about the expectations that Rosselli and the casino have for the store, which will provide 50 jobs, most of them full time.
”That's for the overflow,” Rosselli said of the second cooker. “We expect a lot of takeout business, and we'll be serving guests at the hotel, too.” Now that's something new: a Pepe's that delivers.
Rosselli, who started working in his grandfather's original pizzeria at the age of 13, remembers when things really started to take off there. It was in the 1960s.
”The line would form inside and go the length of nine booths,” he said. “There was this waiter, Salvatore Montagna, who'd come from the kitchen holding the pizza above his head so he could get past the line of people. That was a common scene on weekends.”
So how many customers has Pepe's served? How many pies tossed?
”I never thought of it in terms of numbers,” Rosselli said. “It's always been about quality … in large volumes.”
Toward that end, the Pepe's ovens at Mohegan Sun, as at all the Pepe's locations, are “brick-for-brick replicas” of the original ovens installed in the New Haven store in the 1930s, according to Ken Berry, the aforementioned chief executive officer of Frank Pepe's Development Co.
The ovens, he said, are essential to the Neapolitan-style pizza that Pepe brought over from Italy, a style characterized by the thin crust that results from dough backed at extremely high temperatures.
”It gives it a unique texture,” Berry said. “These pizzas are handcrafted. They're an art form.”
Blessed events, you might say.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE; We (the Mohegan Tribe) had to lose the Earth Casino Snack area for this. Could it be the Mohegan Tribal Council in their haste to build Project Horizon (the Earth Casino Hotel, the Casino of the Wind and the parking lots, and other things, made a deal with the owners of Pepe's that we couldn't get out of . Did we have to do this? Did the Tribal Council again mess up? Do you know? The food court was, I have been told owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe, so we probalby made a profit from it. So now we lease the space to Pepe's. Does that make sense? The picture of Bruce 'Two dogs" Bozsum, in my opinion, looked like he needed a shave. What do you think?