Catching up with Melvindale's Fredi the Pizzaman after viral review
It's been nearly six months since Fredi Bello's pizzeria was completely overwhelmed with customers following a glowing online review from Barstool Sports that sent hoards of pizza fans to the Melvindale business.
Now, the lines are more manageable and nonexistent at some points during the day. The excitement from customers, however, is still there. Bello says people from all 50 states have visited Fredi the PizzaMan since February, and he's been asked for autographs and photos from people who see him as some sort of pizza celebrity.
"It's amazing," he said, adding that the people wanting photos and autographs is a little embarrassing. "I'm just a little pizza guy. I don't understand it."
The best part of all the attention, though, is the awareness it has raised for Fredi the PizzaMan Foundation. Bello raises money so he can buy sensory-friendly equipment for local classrooms. His main fundraiser each year is a golf outing in July. This summer he expanded it to allow for more golfers and it still sold out well in advance.
He estimates that the Barstool Sports video, where founder Dave Portnoy gave his pizza a high score of 8.7 and talked about his charity, resulted in $40,000 in donations since February.
"And they still donate," said Bello. He said he's been able to help an additional nine local schools with this money, and he asked his followers on social media to help him pick which schools to give to. "I have the money I reach to to schools and say hey, I want to help, here's what I do."
He said the frenzy from the Barstool review lasted into the spring.
"The lines the first three months were so long that three quarters of those people never got pizza," he said. To avoid people standing in line for nothing, he and his staff would estimate when they'd run out of pizzas. Bello's pizza-making process requires him to make the dough the night before and refrigerate it for a certain amount of time. He can't just whip up more dough.
Now, he's been able to streamline his process, add more staff and there is no need for a big long line every day.
"I'm actually making more pizzas now than when I had all those lines because I'm actually able to decompress a little bit, hire more people, make more dough and people aren't getting scared by those lines," he said. "They're getting in and getting out as fast as we can. We have a really good system."
He said since the explosion of business in February he estimates he's made 13,000 pizzas, which isn't bad for a pizzeria open 11 a.m-5 p.m.
To order one of his New York thin-crust pizzas — which really are a fantastic and well-executed version of this style — you have to physically visit the store. This is to ensure that every pizza made has someone in the room waiting to get it, there's no risk of canceled orders. You can't call ahead or order online; his website is all about his charity and doesn't even list the menu.
Fredi the PizzaMan, 17900 Allen in Melvindale, has a few tables inside and outside for dining. For daily updates follow Bello on Twitter @FrediThePizzamn. Get more information about the Fredi the PizzaMan Foundation at fredithepizzaman.com.
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