To some, Als’ the unknown guy you see when you go and grab a slice of pizza, but to others, he’s a sincere neighbor and loyal friend. He’s been feeding Fort Worth locals now for the last twenty-five years. He’s the legendary Italian pizzeria owner, Picchi Pacchi, found on Lamar and Seventh street in Fort Worth, TX.
The pandemic has knocked many businesses out of the ring, leaving them without a lively hood. On a regular visit, Al shared with me and my friend Niky about the challenges he’s facing due to the pandemic; Niky nudged me and proposed that we document his story with the hope of bringing more awareness to his shop. I felt personally invested and accepted the proposition.
Initially, this was a passion project to help a beloved friend keep the doors of his business open and, coincidentally, the love for documenting human stories for small business owners within foodservice was born. Over the span of a few months, Niky and I spent time researching, documenting, and filming Picchi Pacchi — documenting food has been something we’ve wanted to undertake for a few years. This is a personal perspective of my friend, Al.
When you first enter Picchi Pacchi, you’ll notice the Godfather poster on the wall, the stylish and comfy lime green couch, the high chairs facing the busy streets of Sundance Square, the open kitchen, and the glass casing where all the freshly made slices from the morning are housed.
Assuredly, Picchi Pacchi isn’t a fast-food shop whatsoever, come to taste delicious Italian cuisine, relax from a long walk around Sundance Square, study (there’s wifi), and enjoy the phenomenal playlist ranging from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin.
Al embraced me very early on as a friend; his disposition is gentle, soft-spoken, yet passionate, very similar to old Italian classic films. He was born in Peja, Kosovo, where his father taught his children the importance of respecting all people regardless of age or color. His father also taught him and his siblings that hard work is respectable in life. Both his father and uncle were well-known men because of their skill, stature, and respectability. When you spend a bit of time with Al, you’ll sense his father’s tradition, love, and discipline.
In December of 1990, Al came to America and started cooking in upscale restaurants in Brooklyn, New York; there, he gravitated towards open kitchens, fast-paced service, and great quality food.
Everything is made fresh — fresh dough, fresh produce, along with other items imported from Sicely. Al’s secret weapon, his marinara sauce, is legendary, a taste that can only be experienced at Picchi. I first tasted the sauce when I had the chicken parmigiana — it makes me do a little dance!
I asked if he’d consider opening other locations; he shared that he dreamed of opening multiple shops and creating a franchise when he was younger, yet something pulled him away. He said, very explicitly, that even with two locations, it will never be the same quality nor consistency unless you use frozen food or measure everything with spoons. There’s only one unique Picchi Pacchi experience here in Fort Worth, TX.
Al was fortunate to meet the late Anthony Bourdain, someone he admired deeply along with British chef Gordon Ramsay. Learning this made my respect for the leader of Picch Pacchi even greater. His standards are high; when delivery drivers come in for pickup orders without having insulated bags to keep the food hot. Like a father, he’ll fuss — hoping to teach drivers the importance of quality service. You will not experience poor quality food at Picchi; Al won’t allow it.
In 2004, Al met Saul (Sa-ool), the Pacchi to his Picchi. Their relationship of 16 years is unique and has stood the test of time even during the pandemic. Watching how both Saul and Al maneuver behind the kitchen is like watching a soldier dissemble their weapon; they move fast with as much attention to detail for each dish. Every time I’ve come in, Saul always yells, “Yo Jeremy, what’s up, man,” to keep me on my toes.
You can’t help but notice the family atmosphere of Picchi Pacchi because of the people who work with Al. I see it as; “A wise man comes upon gold but only keeps the treasure.” Picchi holds wonderful treasures.
Luis, a man with an abundance of joy! He’ll sing to you while making your pizza, crack jokes with you, and makes everything with love.
Senora Mariana has the softest smile around. She’s quiet and often not as noticeable. I know that’s how she prefers it. When I asked if it was okay to photograph her, she gave me the sweetest smile.
Annie, a beautiful and warm face you’ll encounter when you visit, she brings a great presence to Picchi Pacchi. She’s one that is quiet yet brilliant. Her eyes are comforting and kind.
Al told me a story of how he received a call from a customer complaining that their food was cold (remember the delivery drivers?). Being the man he is, Al asked what they ordered, their address, remade the dish, and delivered it himself. He knocked on the door and waited for the customer to try the food (which was still hot) to ensure that things were delicious and were satisfactory. He said he always wants to make sure his customers are happy with his food.
Al’s purpose as a chef, since 1996, has been driven to cook good quality food fast for all who visits. Personally, this experience has enriched me, and Al has become like family. Often I visit the shop just to lay eyes on him to see how he’s doing. I hope you’ll soon enjoy a slice, a salad, some pasta, or merely their playlist and help keep good food alive.
I wanted to focus primarily on the people behind Picchi Pacchi while focusing on how they do everything.
A few more shots…