Palermo’s CEO Giacomo Fallucca confident in revived Menomonee Valley

Since its foundation as a Milwaukee east side company run by Italian immigrants, Palermo’s is centered on two things — people and pizza.

That’s what chief executive officer and son to Palermo’s founders Giacomo Falluca said after he spoke at the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Business of Growing Milwaukee panel Friday. 

Palermo Villa Inc. produces a line of frozen pizza, which are sold at major supermarket chains. Giacoma’s parents Gaspare and Zina Fallucca started their company as an Italian bakery selling breads, cookies and cannoli on Milwaukee’s east side in 1964. In 1969 the couple opened a pizzeria, and in 1979 the company began making frozen pizzas under the Palermo brand name.

The company also sponsors major collegiate and professional sports teams in the Midwest including the Milwaukee Bucks, Brewers, Admirals and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Palermo’s is based in the Menomonee Valley at 3301 W. Canal Street. It moved to its current location in 2006.

With internal and external expansion plans for Palermo’s in 2020, Falluca spoke of his confidence in the Menomonee Valley district, an area that has experienced a renaissance, as he called it, over the last 20 years.

How would you best evaluate business success this year?

“For us it’s two things. It’s about people, and it’s about pizzas. When we think about people, we’re doing so much to engage our employees in a variety of ways — that is by offering them a career.

“One of the new things is leadership training throughout the entire company. We call it living as a leader. That gets employees engaged and excited. And what does that do? It increases productivity.”

Are you planning any business expansion or adding new product lines?

“From the new product development, we look at everything from better-for-you to indulgent. We have a number of new products that we’re introducing in our product lines — primo-thin, urban pie, vegetable-based crust, gluten-free crust on the better-for-you, and then we have on the indulgent side, some new signature Palermo item that go back to where we started in the pizza business back in ’79.”

How has your location in the Menomonee Valley impacted your business?

“It’s impacted it just tremendously. The number one reason is close access for our employees. That was the key that gives them a place to get to work that was very close to our previous site. I think number two, the public support of our company. We have a pizzeria on site that’s open to the public. That has really expanded and really promoted the brand and the company. “

Are there any unique methods you feel you use to retain, to hire employees with Palermo’s?

“We bring employees on the production side typically from the Milwaukee and surrounding areas.

“On the professional side, we recruit employees from all over the country, so it’s not just Milwaukee. We have so many transplants that have come from neighboring cities and states as well as from across the country. When they come to Milwaukee, they look at the residential side of Milwaukee. They look at the beauty of our city and all of the things that Milwaukee has to offer. “

How have you utilized technology to improve production?

“Last year, we had an $11 expansion into technology into robotics and automation. What that’s doing is that if you look at our production employees, they’re walking around with mini iPads. It’s improving their skill level, which improves their pay level.

“We have lots of hands touching product, but we also have improved our technology that allows them to use their brain more versus their brawn. It reduces work-time injuries. It makes it a better place to work where it’s just more enjoyable to be running sophisticated machinery.

“We have robotics in our facility, so utilizing that, it’s no longer the dark hole ways of manufacturing. It’s really a bright, enjoyable place to work.”

Margaret Naczek, Milwaukee Business Journal

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