Giorgio Taverniti grew up in Toronto’s Little Italy, where food, family, and community all played a unifying role. As a kid, he would often pop into the local pizza joint and find inspiration while watching his mom work, soaking up not only the art of how to make a great pizza but also the rigorous work ethic needed to do so efficiently, effectively, and consistently. Skip ahead to 2020. Already juggling the daily challenges of a growing family, deteriorating health, and Frank’s Pizza House — his own restaurant — Taverniti faced the global pandemic that stretched to the limit his already rock-hard resilience and commitment. As it turns out, lessons learned in his youth proved pivotal in confronting the difficulties of this relentless year.
“My pizza is almost nostalgic,” Taverniti says. “People always tell me how they would have pizza from Frank’s on Saturday nights back in the day, how their dad would surprise them with one our pizzas.”
Toronto’s Little Italy is just west of the downtown core, considered to be a more touristy destination for those looking for good food and eclectic nightlife. But when it came time to open Frank’s Pizza House in 1992, Taverniti and family opted for Corso Italia, Toronto’s other, more local Italian enclave located a few kilometres north where community mattered more than bright lights and fancy drinks. He understood in order to earn the trust of his community, he needed to continue his family’s pillars of quality dishes through hard work, sincerity, integrity and, of course, traditionally-made dough, the cornerstone of every great Italian meal. True to the craft, he still keeps the dough in the fridge for 48 hours to properly develop and in turn, creates each calzone, pizza, and panzerotti fresh to order. Accolades mounted and with the advent of social media, word spread quicker than he and his family could imagine.
“Pizza is my passion and I feel that my life revolves around it. I love the process of making pizza and I find even preparing the dough balls relaxes me,” Taverniti adds.
His passion has been rewarded annually from various local publications, voting Frank’s Pizza House “Best Old School Pizzeria in Toronto”, home to the “Best Panzerotti”, “Best Pizza Delivery”, and even “Best Pizza Kits”. In 2019, Taverniti placed second in the Traditional Pizza category at the Canadian Pizza Summit. That same year, he welcomed his sixth child while continuing to battle personal health challenges, including advanced glaucoma, no vision in his right eye, and no peripheral vision in his left. Forced to work less, he transferred the restaurant responsibilities to his wife, and stayed home to watch the kids. Then the pandemic hit, adding immeasurable volatility to an already challenging situation.
“I wake up in the middle of the night to make sure I can still see. I avoid sunlight and most nights I take a taxi home from the restaurant because I don’t drive anymore,” he explains. “I don’t even know what routes they take and I pray I get home safely.”
When COVID-19 began affecting Toronto, Taverniti incredibly went back to the restaurant, devoting 16 hours a day to generate revenue for his family. In the process, unbeknownst to him, he also sparked hope by maintaining a certain level of normalcy for his community. True to his word, very few can outwork him and it appears, fewer still can out-sympathize him. During the pandemic, Taverniti, set up a “pizza slice fund” for those who couldn’t afford a meal, even giving away pizzas for free to those who didn’t have enough food. He created a large banner outside of his pizzeria announcing a pay-what-you-can campaign and the response from the community was overwhelmingly supportive. Both passersby and patrons would add anywhere between $5 and $100 to the fund. In essence, they paid it forward for the next person to have the opportunity to eat. The selfless campaign caught on on a wider scale and before Taverniti knew it, those in surrounding neighbourhoods began to advertise it on social media, urging people to order from Frank’s Pizza House and give back to those in need.
His presence in the neighbourhood over the years has made him a recognizable figure, his menu synonymous with quality. But, it’s Taverniti’s altruism and intense empathy that has solidified his status as a respected and admired community leader. In turn, the community, even the city, has responded in droves by supporting his small business and keeping it open through the most volatile and unpredictable of times. For Taverniti, the importance of those early years, and the lessons he learned go beyond simply watching Mom make pizza. Instead, it’s about the power of uniting people, creating new old-school-style connections that reflect the very fabric of the community itself, that of neighbour helping neighbour, through food.