'Salt of the earth': Family and hard work are cornerstones of Franco's

This week, we’re setting up shop in Clareview, one of the most established communities in northeast Edmonton, for a one-week pop-up. This story is part of a series highlighting the neighbourhood and the people who live in it. Catch more stories by clicking here.

Fred Perri finds it hard to believe it’s been 40 years since he opened Franco’s restaurant with his older brother Frank, in Edmonton’s Clareview neighbourhood.

“It was long hours and long days. There were no days off,” Perri recalls about the early years.

“Every day turns so quickly that, all of a sudden, 40 years have gone. There was no time. The success came because there was no time to think about success.”

The brothers were young boys when their family immigrated from southern Italy to Edmonton. 

Franco’s is a testament to their heritage. 

Italian music plays in the background as customers gather around red-and-white-checkered tables. Frescoes of landscapes from the old country adorn the walls and the red wine is flowing.

Brothers Carmelo, Fred, Frank, Vince and John Perri (from left to right) serve traditional Italian meals at Franco’s. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

At the centre of it all is the food, inspired by their family recipes. 

“Everything is fresh from scratch,” Fred said. “My mother grew tomatoes until the day she died; that’s where it came from.”

Younger Perri brothers Carmelo, John, Vince and Tony joined the business over time. (Tony died in 2015.)

“They started by bussing tables and washing dishes. We all started by washing dishes,” Fred recalled. “Then you evolve, go into the kitchen, become a server, a bit of everything.”

They also have the unwavering support of their wives and children, who encouraged them to persevere through the tough times, he added. 

“Somehow we managed to keep the doors open.”

The Perri family eventually opened two other locations — a second restaurant in Clareview and a third in Edmonton’s west end.

But the original location, near 50th Street and Hermitage Road, holds a special place in their hearts.

“This community is sincere; that’s the beauty of Clareview people,” Fred said. “We became part of their lives too, and that’s where the bonds come in.”

Dedicated staff 

The brothers employ around 100 people between their three restaurants. Many staff members have worked for them for decades.

The family’s dedication to the business is infectious, said server Pamela O’Brien, who’s worked for the Perris for four years.

“They’re salt of the earth. They have a crazy work ethic,” O’Brien said. “You work alongside them, you can’t even keep up.

“You get to a point where you care as much about the business as they do. You’ve got to remind yourself that you don’t own it.”

Franco’s runs like a well-oiled machine, O’Brien said, and the staff can rely on each other. 

“You don’t have to worry about the kitchen. It can be a zoo in here, and it comes out perfect and it comes out in a timely manner.”

‘Best in town’

Franco’s friendly atmosphere is what draws longtime customer Faye Roberts.

“It’s nice to come in and just feel comfortable. You feel almost like you’re at home,” Roberts said. “It’s wonderful.”

Rosa Perri grew her own tomatoes, herbs and peppers. Her sons continued the tradition after she died. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

She remembers her first visit to Franco’s in 1980, shortly after moving to Edmonton from Newfoundland with her husband. 

“This was my first restaurant to come to and I believe it was fish and chips that I had,” she recalled. 

Today, she’s partial to the chicken lasagna. “I love it. It’s the best in town.” 

Loyal customers make it possible for the Perri family to give back to their community, Carmelo Perri said. 

“We came from poverty,” he said. “We were blessed to come to a country like Canada. We took a chance and we got this out of it. Now it’s time to give back.” 

The brothers organize an annual golf tournament to raise funds for local charities and donate food to families in need and local schools. 

It all comes back to the strong family values the brothers inherited from their parents, Fred Perri said.

“People say, ‘What is your secret?’ There is no secret. The magic is everybody working collectively for the same goal. That’s the most important and it proves itself in the results, 40 years later.”

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