It’s a late mid-week afternoon, and the new DiCicco’s in east Fresno is busy.
Customers are drinking and laughing, while another couple enjoys an Italian lunch. The opening of a new DiCicco’s is not just significant because one of Fresno’s brand-name family restaurants opened in a new spot.
It also is the first sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood.
Carlo DiCicco saw an opportunity and it appears to be paying off.
“It’s a dream come true. We were actually looking at the old Me-n-Ed’s, at Fowler and Ashlan. Things didn’t work out with that landlord there, and I wasn’t too happy with the meeting. So I took a drive and went a little further east and south and found this corner for sale,” Carlo said.
Watch: New DiCicco’s at Shields & Armstrong
Expanding DiCicco’s Reach
“It’s all about execution and being consistent, and it’s a constant battle. You got to work it. You just have to work it, period.” — owner Carlo DiCicco
When DiCicco’s opened last month (6407 E. Shields Ave.), it became the first sit-down restaurant on Shields east of Clovis Avenue. While the neighborhoods have continued to build in that area over the last 15 years — especially east of Fowler Avenue — services have not kept up.
There is a Dollar Tree (that used to be a Walgreen’s) and a Taco Bell at the corner of Shields and Fowler. A new Starbucks recently opened in the same parking lot.
“We just saw an opportunity. The areas that I had locations in were in the center of Fresno. They served a purpose when we first started and they kind of started to run down. And you have to look to the future and grow. You just got to keep figuring things out, especially in this business,” Carlo said.
His cousins partnered with him to build from scratch. Carlo estimates start-up costs at $3 million.
“Everything in here is brand new. We have charging stations for cars. Tesla has a charging station out here. We tried to go as clean and green as possible,” Carlo said.
The new DiCicco’s is good for the neighborhood, says Fresno City Councilman Tyler Maxwell, who represents the area.
“That’s going to be huge for those families living east of Fowler Avenue,” Maxwell said. “Most people that want to go eat in that neighborhood oftentimes will go up to the city of Clovis, taking their taxpayer dollars there.
“We have a quality restaurant now along the Shields corridor, which I’ve already talked to dozens of people who have already patronized that place. And I think it’s going to be a really great thing for those families. In a sign of what’s more to come for the general area, Fowler and Shields.”
Customers found the new DiCicco’s quickly.
“Fortunately, because of the name recognition, getting people in the door isn’t the hard part. It’s all about execution and being consistent, and it’s a constant battle. You got to work it. You just have to work it, period,” Carlo said.
Finding employees can be the tricky part. Most of the new DiCicco’s staff is relatively new to the service industry, either in high school or college. Staff were trained at one of the other locations and so far, so good, Carlo said.
Say Hello to Scarface
The Scarface pasta ($19.99) is the most popular, Carlo said.
“Sautéed chicken and mushroom in a cream sauce, white wine, and cream. Yeah, that’s I think that’s the biggest seller in all the locations,” Carlo said.
Pizza is the staple.
“The most popular pizza is the DiCicco’s special ($18 for a small 10-inch up to $25.50 for a giant 16-inch)— pepperoni, salami, ground beef sausage, bell pepper, onion and mushroom, and cheese,” Carlo said.
Many DiCiccos, Several Restaurants
The first DiCicco’s opened in Fresno in 1956 by four brothers — Nicola, Alberto, Frank, and Roberto. In the subsequent 65 years, there have been wives, sons, daughters, and cousins to carry on the family name.
Carlo’s parents are Alberto and Enza.
“I used to work at the Harvard and Blackstone location. It’s not there anymore,” Carlo said. “I started when I was 12 washing dishes on Sunday. Then I got promoted to making pizza when I was 15 at that location and worked until three in the morning. Child slavery laws! All forgiven, though. They taught us life lessons. You don’t fold. You learn to work through things.”
Menus vary from each restaurant, but each carries the basics — pizza and pasta.
“We all share the name, but none of us share the recipes. This is what we do. This is what our customers like and they do what their customers like. And it seems to work,” Carlo said. “Everybody loves a Scarface. Calzones, we all carry those items. But then we have different variations, different names.”
Menu Items Named After Family Members
The website mentions 19 locations total, with 12 in the Fresno area.
Even Carlo had a hard time keeping up when trying to list his brothers and sisters and cousins.
“Somebody in the family is going to get mad at me right now. … If I forgot anybody, please I’m sorry,” Carlo said.
Despite all the family members involved, he says there is no restaurant rivalry.
“We always offer support any way we can. We’re here to survive and make a living and be happy,” Carlo said.
Only one DiCicco’s is owned by a non-DiCicco — the Kingsburg restaurant owned by longtime family friends Sylvia and Mark Avila.
Several menu items are named after various DiCiccos, including Carlo’s children Alberto, Massimo, and Sophia. Those are shrimp dishes.
“This is my destiny,” Carlo said.