PHOTOS BY CHARLENE MANN PHOTOGRAPHY
You may know him as the fun, track suit wearing, flamboyant Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria franchise creator, Donut’s Delite franchisor and Rochester Lancers soccer teams owner, “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo. To Rochester Woman Online he is the 2020 Men’s edition cover, and a really sweet, down to earth guy who would give you the shirt off his back to try and help you.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Sam and ask him to tell us a little about himself, how he got started, his franchise business and more. Here is what I found out, and it definitely wasn’t disappointing.
Everyone knows “SoccerSam” for his outgoing personality and style…tell us a little about what you are like under it all..
In real life, I am extremely shy and I am pretty awkward outside of my soccer and pizza worlds. I spent so many years working 7 days a week, 16 hour days that I never adjusted to a normal social life.
How did you get the nickname “Soccer Sam”?
In 1994 I started doing a cable access tv show and our focus was soccer. One of my friends then began to call me SoccerSam. In 1999 I used the name to open America’s first soccer themed Italian restaurant called, SoccerSam’s Pizza Pasta Café.
How did you start Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria?
In 1972 at the age of 12 I started working at my Uncle Fred’s meat market. My senior year at Eastridge HS I did a home economics project on pizza. I convinced Uncle Fred to put a pizzeria inside his meat market that was located at 1978 E Main St. A few months later he realized how many extra hours he would have to be open and work so he decided against it. At the age of 17 and while I was still in high school, I rented the old East Main shoe store at 1985 East Main St across from Uncle Freds. Soon my parents and Uncle Fred found out and I promised everyone that I would graduate from high school. On July 5 1978 the first Salvatore’s pizzeria location opened at 1985 East Main St.
Regarding the Pac Man picture, my first two years in business we didn’t have many customers. I would play neighborhood kids in Pac Man and bet them a free pizza if they could beat me. Their quarters added up each week for me to survive in business.
Soon after, I got really lucky my neighbor was this biker dude that would come in every day for lunch. Customers started coming in and telling me that they heard about our meatball sub or our steak sub on the radio from ‘Brother Wease’. Around the same time this well dressed lawyer looking guy would come in every day for lunch and I soon found out that he was Andrew Langston. He was the founder of WDKX and we soon traded food for radio commercials. That’s when I realized the power of advertising and I then put every penny I made into marketing with Brother Wease and WDKX. I didn’t have time to play Pac Man anymore.
When/how did you know when you were ready to franchise?
In the early years I had family & Friends help me at my original store. When my brother Chuck and my cousin John graduated from high school they wanted to open their own location in 1982. I helped them with the process and as years went on several young pizza box makers, delivery drivers and family members approached me about opening their own location. In 2011 I decided to become a NYS Franchise and we converted all of the current license agreements into approved NYS Franchises. Donna Waasdorp who helped handle tickets for the Lancers was as sharp as most lawyers and helped put this NYS Franchise process together for me. I was really fortunate with my earlier franchisees working day and night like I did for years to build their locations. I won the lottery with an amazing wife that let me work while she took care of our home and family.
I never anticipated the amount of time, energy and man power it would take to operate 29 locations at the Corporate level. I don’t sleep much making sure that all 29 locations are operated like our original store in 1978. I currently answer each and every customer issue and I send daily emails to remind everyone that Details=Difference and Perfection=Profits.
Tell us a little about the “women”, specifically that one very special woman behind Sam Fantauzzo…
I met my wife Linda in High School and we married in 1980. We currently have 3 children (Salvatore, Roxanna and Silvio) and 7 grandchildren (Santino, Salvatore, Noella, Jovany, Massimo, Frankie and Camila). Linda was my first delivery person back in ’78. In the ‘80s she helped me create our school pizza division and in the ‘90s she helped create recipes for Salvatore’s and SoccerSam’s. Throughout that time she went to weddings, funerals and birthday parties alone, while I worked. She is a very special partner.
In 2011 I started the Rochester Lancers and I brought a ticket & sponsorship person named Kayla Kent. I soon gave her, her middle name of Klark and today Kayla Klark Kent-Moreira now handles our soccer division and is my CFO for all my companies. Her new name is “Mama Monies”. One of my proudest moments as a business owner was to have Kayla ask me if her kids, Jilliana and Thiago, could call me ‘Papa’.
In 2013 one of my food brokers brought her daughter to work with her. Within months I hired Ashley Maria King to handle merchandise sales for our Lancers soccer team. Today ‘Maria’ is our President of Business Operations and handles legal, marketing and more for all of our brands. Ashley’s baby girl is due on my birthday in August and if that baby doesn’t call me ‘Papa’ I’m going to have to fire her again.
Both Ashley and Kayla are like family to me and I’m blessed to have them watch my back 24/7 and protect my family and my companies. I want them to always focus on raising their families first and work second. I encourage Kayla to bring her kids to work or stay home with them when needed. Ashley’s maternity leave will be longer than most wars. It took me 30 years to realize the importance of keeping the right people around me to continue the success of my brands.
What has been the greatest challenge for you in business?
Our greatest challenge has been competing & marketing with national chains and local super market chains that have layers of top executives overseeing their companies with huge marketing budgets. We compete with great food, great service and we have had to be extremely creative with our limited marketing budget. At Salvatore’s I have Kayla, Ashley and my son Silvio. We are fortunate to have several great owners that have devoted their lives to their individual stores.
What have you done to keep your franchise dreams alive during Covid 19?
I got really lucky that I had cousins in Italy that were in the pizza business and they were 8 weeks ahead of us with Covid. I started preparing my stores well in advance for safety shields, masks, distancing decals, box safety seals and more well before NYS mandated these items. My OCD finally paid off and our locations have been spotless clean since 1978. I now believe that our customers truly appreciate how we operate.
We helped feed first responders and hospitals for months through our ‘Feed Rochester’ Campaign, thanks to IHeart Radio and our location owners.
Franchisee Nick Pearl came up with the idea for touchless delivery before it was even introduced.
We helped to donate thousands of masks at our Bay Rd location to First Responders.
We got worldwide attention from the Dr. Fauci donut at our Salvatore’s location inside the historic Donut’s Delite building.
We continued the donut craze with other donuts such as: First Responders, Teachers, Emojis, ‘The Mask’ Donut & more.
Tell us the story behind purchasing Rochester’s famous Donut’s Delite…
In 2008 I kept on driving by the vacant Donut’s Delite building on my way to work, operating the Rochester Rhinos. I continuously called the realtor with offers that they rejected. Finally they accepted the offer and I was ready to put a Salvatore’s location at the corner of Culver and Empire. I convinced the two closest Salvatore’s Franchisees, John Coraggioso and (cousin) Ray LoRe to join the project. When I went to the City of Rochester to try to keep the same size signs that were currently on the building I was told that I must comply with new sign ordinances. I reached out to Robert Malley, the original Donuts Delite founder that started the business in 1958 about keeping his name up on the building and we would become Salvatore’s at the Historic Donuts Delite building. I then approached Mr. Malley about sharing some of his donut recipes to try to keep the donut tradition alive. After the grand opening in 2010 my hunch was right and Rochester loved these donuts. We continued to have lines around the building for weeks and 10 years later the madness hasn’t stopped. Current Franchisee, Nick Semeraro is a very creative baker and has helped keep my dream alive.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your life?
In 2009 I had gastric bypass surgery. I strongly recommend the surgery for anyone that has tried every diet, has diabetes or high blood pressure and can’t lose weight. My doctors over looked one of my medicines and I bled internally, lost my entire memory and almost lost my life. Father Michael Costanzo and Dr. DiBenedetto from Rochester General Hospital saved my life and I soon learned how to adjust without any past memory of my first life with the help of my beautiful wife.
In 2010 we decided to create a new office and Patty Powers my longtime media buyer helped me reconnect and we soon hired Lyndsay DiMeo to handle the graphic department and Mike Moran who helped create salvatores.com. All my franchisees kicked in and my brother Chuck Fantauzzo helped with inspecting the locations daily. Within a few years I was back on track ready to take on the pizza world.
Today, our new office that Ashley and Kayla operate is also four floors of a Rochester Soccer Museum including memorabilia and artwork of my all time favorite player, Abby Wambach and my all time favorite team the US Women’s National Team.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
-Business wise: Creating a platform for Salvatore’s that young people who work hard can achieve anything they want in life by being part of our brand.
I am also proud of our efforts continuing to help donate to local nonprofits in Rochester, including The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, Camp Good Days and Special Times, and more.
-Soccer wise: Bringing the Rochester Lancers name and logo back to this great city in 2011. I fell in love with soccer in 1970 attending Lancers games with my Uncles and Dad.
-Personal: I’m proud of my 3 kids, Salvatore, Roxanna and Silvio. They all work really hard and have become great parents and great people, just like their mommy. My son Silvio operates two Salvatore’s locations and is training to take over the company one day. My son Salvatore is the first in our immediate family to graduate high school and college. He now owns Fantauzzo Acupuncture where he specializes in Cosmetic Acupuncture and he is why I look so good. My daughter Roxanna was a young single mom and raised an amazing young man, Santino. She now has 4 children and I see the same hippy chick calmness in her that I love about my beautiful wife.
If you could redo 1 thing that has happened to you what would that be and why?
I was obsessed with making Salvatore’s a success. I have been obsessed the past 42 years to keep all our locations open and help all our owners become successful. I did not learn to connect with my family, friends, or neighbors. I missed out on a lot of important moments and connections that I should have made. Facebook has helped me to reconnect with people that I knew very well in my first life. I still play pick up soccer 2 times per week but unfortunately, I am the last one to arrive and the first one to leave because of work responsibilities. I never learned how to hunt, fish, boat, ski, golf or anything that I could teach my kids and now my grandkids. My only hobby has been work and my mental release has been soccer. I truly regret not having a better work life balance.
Where do you see yourself in 1year? What about 5years from now?
My goal is to retire in 20 years. I would like to semi retire on our 50th anniversary of Salvatore’s. By then my son Silvio’s two kids (Massimo and Camila) will be in school and he will be able to take over most of my day to day responsibilities so I could focus strictly on the marketing part of the business that I love. Ashley and Kayla’s children will be in school by then and they could help Silvio with all my crazy daily responsibilities.
How did you end up owning a professional soccer team?
In 2010, Chris Economedies, who was the first person to hire me with the Rhinos in 1996 contacted me to be part of his new indoor league the MISL. I reached out to Rich Randall who was my right hand man at the Rhinos to come operate the team. I then called some of my closest friends and they invested the money needed to bring Pro Soccer back to Rochester (Chris Wilmot, Dom Vieira, Steve Stokes, Luis Ribeiro and John Coraggioso). Soon the Rochester Lancers indoor team was born with the help of several former Rhinos including Doug Miller. Rich Randall helped hire my amazing staff & to bring in players. Soon we became the most successful indoor team from 2011-2015. I later decided to join the NPSL and create an environment where local players can feel like pros.
When the WNY Flash left Rochester, I was able to fill a void for women’s soccer with the Lady Lancers playing in the UWS. We now operate three soccer teams and I love every minute of it.
What is one thing about you that your audience may not know?
I am extremely shy and struggle to hold conversation if I’m not in my work or soccer environment. I have the attention span of a squirrel,
Your wife has played a huge role in your life both personally and professionally…Tell us a little about her, her role in the Salvatore’s Pizza dynasty, and a little about the woman behind the infamous Sam Fantauzzo.
Linda has been my best friend and partner since I met her in 1976. She helped me create Salvatore’s and was supportive with all my crazy endeavors including becoming a Professional Wrestler (Dr Love). She was my valet and her stage name was Nurse Nice Lips. We soon grew up and started our family in 1983 with my first son, Salvatore being born. She took care of everything home related so that I could focus on building Salvatore’s.
For 10 years we supplied all the school districts with pizza. Linda would come in at 4am and help us produce the pizzas, she would then leave and go home to get the kids ready for school. After they were off to school, Linda would come back and help us finish the day at our whole sale commissary. On the weekends she would help me with our catering division, supplying parties throughout Monroe County. When we started SoccerSam’s she brought all her recipes and soon our restaurant was a huge success. Throughout all that she was an amazing mother and had her own hair dressing business to juggle. She is the landscaper, the painter, the cook, the grandmother and the hot mama that holds it all together. She is my favorite hippy chick.
Is there anything else you are working on that RWO and our audience might want to know about?
We are currently working on developing a new pizza concept that we plan to franchise nationally. SoccerSam’s pizza will be available for any bar, café, ice cream store, etc to add amazing European Style Pizza to their establishment. We are also working on opening more Donuts Delite locations and we hope to bring a well known ice cream brand back to Rochester.