Closure of the Italian restaurant Franco’s in Pensacola, building for sale

Italian restaurant Franco’s is closing its Pensacola store after 23 years in business, although operators plan to continue serving customers until the end of February.

Partner Franco Manzi said the building at 523 E. Gregory St. was put on the market in the fall of 2021, but the finalization of the sale of the building is still pending. He said he wanted to delay the news for as long as possible, but still believed he needed to give his employees enough time to find new work opportunities.

“They were shocked, sad. Sad is the word, more than anything, ”Manzi said.

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Franco Manzi talks on Friday about his trip to the United States and the opening of the Italian restaurant Franco's in Pensacola, alongside Giovanni Volpara and the late Gennaro

Even after years of hard work and 18-hour workdays, Manzi said there was still a sadness in saying goodbye to his little corner of Italy.

“That’s all I know, that’s it,” Manzi said. “I cannot thank Pensacola enough and what my clients have done for me. Over the years I have had great staff.

Manzi has spent most of his career alongside his two partners, Gennaro Intermoia and Giovanni Volpara, to create a traditional Italian experience that reflects the homes they grew up in. Manzi is from Gaeta, a town in southern Italy, and his two partners were born outside of Naples.

He said the three have become close friends in the United States, growing closer to their common heritage and love for soccer games.

He said they built the business with the dream of not needing to work for someone else and becoming their own boss.

The business was slow to take off, but the three found their rhythm. Volpara and Intermoia prepared the recipes from scratch, while Manzi’s primary responsibility and privilege was to stay up front to greet guests. The Italian dressing recipe, however, was something Manzi always made himself.

“My partner does not know the recipe. Even my children, they don’t know it, ”Manzi said. “I promised I would never give it to anyone. I keep my promises.

Franco Manzi shows a drawing of himself with his two partners, Giovanni Volpara and the late Gennaro

As they gained traffic through word of mouth, future regulars started flocking. Many became weekly or monthly guests that Manzi could always recognize.

Even though their dream of becoming her own boss had come true, that didn’t stop her from doing all the necessary work, such as carrying tables for her clients.

For the three partners, the deal was never about the money, Manzi said, but the happiness of the customers. If they could pay their bills, that was enough, he said.

The company has experienced several challenges in recent years, particularly when Intermoia was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in her death.

Another major challenge was the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge following Hurricane Sally. The closure has prevented many of his customers, everywhere from Gulf Breeze to Fort Walton, from having fairly quick access to the restaurant, he said.

He felt it was time to put the building on the market.

Julie Jackson, a Franco employee for 15 years, said she was shocked to learn of the closure because working at Franco was like being part of another family.

Franco Manzi is standing in front of his namesake restaurant, Franco's Italian Restaurant, in Pensacola on Friday.  Manzi, as well as his two partners Giovanni Volpara and the late Gennaro

“I will miss it a lot. He (Manzi) watched my kids grow up, ”Jackson said. “I’m going to stay until it’s over. … He’s a good, good man. A good boss, a little stubborn at times. We had a lot of fun here.

Manzi said he plans to spend a lot of time with his grandchildren.

“My daughter finally gave me two grandchildren, after being married for 11 years,” he said. “I will try to stay home with the children.”

Franco’s Italian restaurant will be open daily, except Monday, until further notice. Hours of operation are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

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