The grief was palpable when the news broke in June of 2022 that Maria’s Pizza was closing its doors at 5025 W. Forest Home Ave.
The local pizzeria, which celebrated 65 years, was long known for both its unique, irregularly shaped, thin-crust pizza and distinctive atmosphere, which featured classic red checkered tablecloths and walls covered in strands of decorative lights, vintage signs and a collection of religious paint-by-number art.
Since the pizzeria closed in June of 2022, potential buyers have come and gone. But one couple stood out from the crowd. Industry veterans Brian Francis and his wife Jenny closed on the Maria’s Pizza property on Wednesday, Aug. 30, with the hope of reopening the iconic pizzeria by the end of the year.
Francis, who also owns Mulligan’s Irish Pub & Grill in Franklin, says that when he learned from his real estate agent that the property was available, he immediately arranged to take a look.
“My family has been going there for years,” he says. “We love the pizza, love the nostalgia. And we want another generation to be able to come here and enjoy Maria’s just like we have.”
To ensure that, Francis says they’re going to do everything in their power to honor the Maria's legacy and operate it in the same fashion that it has always been.
“Our first priority is to get in there, give it a good deep cleaning and make sure the equipment works as it should,” Francis says. “But beyond that, we’re not changing anything. We've obtained the exclusive rights and all recipes for the business. We want people to walk in here and feel like nothing has changed. It is our goal to restore this beloved Milwaukee institution and continue the legacy that started back in 1957."
To ensure that they can replicate the full Maria’s experience, Francis says they will be working with Maria Trexel’s granddaughter, Maria Story, who was taught the recipe for their pizza when she was just 13 years old.
“She is still living in the building and will be there for the next three months to assure we are making that delicious pizza the same way it has always been made,” says Francis.
As for the decor, Francis says that some of the items, including a number of the paint-by-number pieces, were sold off by the family. But he hopes that they will be able to get some of them back.
Francis says that they are likely to reopen as carry-out only, at least for the first month or so, to ensure that they can meet demand and offer people a high-quality experience. But offering guests the full Maria’s experience is the ultimate goal.
“The opportunity to buy an iconic place like Maria’s, and keep it going, isn’t something that you turn down,” says Francis. “We’re excited and honored to carry on the legacy and the tradition that Maria’s started in 1957.”
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.