As director of operations for Mancuso’s Restaurants Inc., Grayhawk’s
Fran Mancuso keeps her family’s dining heritage intact.
Story by Sally J.
Clasen • Portrait by Jeff Newton • Food photography by
When Fran Mancuso’s father, Frank, told his 12-year-old
daughter in 1964 that the family was moving to Phoenix
from Auburn, N.Y., she had no idea where they were
heading but she was determined not to go. Despite her
objections, Fran relocated to the Valley. More than 40
years later, she is gratefully entrenched here and
upholding the family’s reputation as successful owners
of several Italian restaurants.
From Waitress to Spokeswoman
When the Mancusos landed in Phoenix, they had no
restaurant experience – her father worked for General
Electric at the time – but mother Agnes’ dream was to
open a dessert parlor. In 1969, the family debuted
Fran’s Italian Fruit Ices on Seventh Avenue just north
“We borrowed $1,000 from my mom’s parents and opened
with a few barstools and tables and 10 different
flavors,” says its namesake.
Fran’s parents did the cooking while 14-year-old
Fran was the sole waitress of the tiny operation, which
was the first of its kind in the city.
“I did my homework in between tables,” she says.
After suggestions from customers, mostly Camelback
car salesmen, the Mancusos expanded their menu to
include subs and pasta. Space constraints forced a move
in 1971 to Seventh Avenue and Pierson, where they opened
a full-fledged restaurant called Fran’s Italian Gourmet
Dining. The Mancusos then moved their concept to Seventh
Avenue and Coolidge in 1974, opening a restaurant that
was an homage to the Old World, complete with white
pillars, and blue and gold decor.
“You should have seen it,” says Fran. “It was so
The family kept their downtown location for more
than a decade, changing its name a few times and opening
up other restaurants in the Valley and California
throughout the ‘80s, including the award-winning
Mancuso’s at the Borgata in 1982, which received several
Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for Best Italian
Though Fran has moved up the employee food chain,
the restaurant business is the only career the
53-year-old Grayhawk resident has ever known. Today, she
is director of operations for Mancuso Restaurants Inc.,
which includes their latest venture, Bobby’s, Frankie’s
Little Italy and Mancuso’s at the Summit.
In April 2005, the doors closed on the family’s
longest-running restaurant, Mancuso’s at the Borgata, as
well as the adjacent Frankie’s Patio Cafe, due to the
Borgata’s renovation plan that involved tearing down
certain parts of the center to create more open spaces
for shoppers. Mancuso’s at the Borgata, a castle-like
banquet hall complete with ornate chandeliers was,
according to Fran, the family centerpiece.
“I got up the next day, drove to the parking lot
and just sat there and stared. It was bittersweet, but
we had a good run. Now we’re focused on the other side,”
she says of the their current concepts in north
Scottsdale, which range from contemporary casual to
upscale dining and continue to feature signature Mancuso
Protecting a Legacy
day, Fran shuttles among restaurants, taking
reservations on loose paper she pulls from her purse and
solving facility issues with a cellphone that rings
non-stop. In between calls, she greets staff with her
signature “Hi, honey,” chats with managers about
non-restaurant topics and agrees to pick up a stranded
waiter on the other side of town so he can make his
“We’re all family here,” she says. She also relieves the
manager of Mancuso’s at the Summit two days a week.
day starts around 9 a.m. and sometimes ends at 9 p.m. I
like to say this is a 25/8 business. I eat, sleep and
younger brother Bob, 45, is president of the company and
handles the financial side, as well as hiring and
developing menus for their mini-empire, which increases
to 150 members during peak season.
“This isn’t a huge corporation, but Bob and I take 110
percent responsibility for it,” Fran says. The Mancuso
siblings, whose family-owned operation is rare in the
corporate dining industry, have two good reasons to
protect their dynasty.
scraped by,” says Agnes, 81. “My husband and I worked
hard and didn’t give up. We’re the American dream. We’ve
been able to leave a legacy to our children, and they’re
doing a beautiful job.”
Michael DeMaria, chef and co-owner of Michael’s at the
Citadel, attributes the Mancuso’s success to their
business savvy and longevity.
Mancuso name is certainly one you recognize in the
Valley. It’s a tough city to service due to the ebb and
flow of the industry. There aren’t many you can list
who’ve been in the business for even 10 years. The list
gets even smaller in the 20- and 30-year range,” says
DeMaria. “You have to know how to survive and redesign
and reinvent yourself. The Mancusos have done that. They
are restaurant people.”
Peter Maland, 82, of Sun City met the Mancusos years ago
in New York and has witnessed the family’s progression
from simple dessert-shop owners to sophisticated
“It’s phenomenal what they’ve done,” Maland says. “I’ve
never seen a couple work harder than Frank and Agnes.
Usually, a restaurant hires people to make it
successful, but in the earlier years, the Mancusos did
it own their own.”
Although the Mancusos can take credit for helping to
shape the Valley restaurant scene, no one in the family
rests on their laurels.
“Years ago, we had no competition, but today, we welcome
it. Even though we’re confident in our category, the
restaurant growth in the Valley keeps you on your toes,”
says Fran, who is guided by her father’s voice as she
manages her tasks in the business, a role she assumed in
never leaves my mind,” she says of Frank, who passed
away in 1993. “He always said: ‘People don’t have to eat
at our restaurant.’”
Customers, though, have chosen to return to Mancuso’s
hospitality time and time again. Bob estimates that
millions have dined at their restaurants, which Fran
describes as happy, bright and inviting.
have longevity because we played by the rules, had faith
and work hard every single day,” she says.
Diners also seek out Mancuso’s flair for serving great
northern Italian food, still mostly based on Agnes’
recipes, including her sauces. Bob calls her the queen
of the taste buds.
“Everything has to meet my specifications,” Agnes says.
Fran, who has a son, Brandon, 23, rarely takes a break
but manages to shop and seek refuge at her home, a
tribute to coastal living—and, perhaps, missed
vacations. Growing up in the restaurant business has
been a struggle at times, but she wouldn’t trade her
“It’s second nature. I can’t imagine doing anything
else,” says Fran. “I still laugh every day. Thank God my
parents had the gumption to get into the business. I’m
proud of the Mancuso name.”