'You can't prepare for this': Fredi the PizzaMan in Melvindale overwhelmed after review
A pizza maker for 40 years, Fredi Bello has sold out of pizza daily this week and his autism foundation has raised more than $26,000
To say Fredi Bello is having a busy week is a vast understatement.
Known as Fredi the PizzaMan, his Melvindale pizzeria has been overwhelmed since Tuesday after an internet celebrity and pizza influencer gave his product atypical high marks in a viral video Monday, telling his millions of followers that Bello's pizza is the best in Detroit.
The video caused an avalanche of attention to the restaurant and donations to Bello's autism foundation. Customers have lined the block all week and the whole thing has turned Bello's daily routine on its head.
"I'm just blown away," he said. "You can't prepare for this."
Mostly a lunch stop for nearby factory workers, Fredi's usually closes at 5 p.m. but he's had to stop earlier than that this week because he's run out of dough. A pizza maker for 40 years, his product requires a dedicated process. He can't just mix flour and water together and make a new batch of dough in a few hours. It wouldn't be the same pizza.
We’re running a great deal through Feb. 18 for our new subscribers. Sign up here for just $1 for 6 months.
Bello, whose Fredi the PizzaMan shop has been in Melvindale for 15 years and 15 before that in Dearborn Heights, says he's happy with the publicity but is concerned he is letting customers down by not getting them the food they're standing outside for in the cold hoping to taste.
"I’m a small little place, I have four tables, maybe five," he said. "I run it myself, I cook everything myself. I have my waitress, my busser in the back. We do really well. A very nice lunch clientele, they know me."
This week, though, he's had to put in a ticket machine "like the Secretary of State" to help organize orders. He also had to switch to selling slices only, not whole pizzas, until after 2 p.m. That is if the ingredients even last that long.
"I'm selling out of pizza and goulash by 3 p.m. no matter how much I make," he said. "These people are standing outside two, three blocks in the cold weather. I just can't believe it."
Aside from one customer who requested a discounted pizza on her next visit after he ran out, he said most people have been understanding.
"It really breaks my heart to see people stand in line and I have to turn them away. I’m truly sorry for it," he said.
Bello says he wants to remain a small operation and has reached out to others in his situation to see how they handled it. He said he was on the phone at 5 a.m. Thursday with Danny DiGiampietro, owner of Angelo's Pizzeria in Philadelphia. The same controversial influencer, Dave Portnoy from Barstool Sports (who has raised $35 million for small businesses during the pandemic, and has been unapologetic about use of racist language in the past and called himself "uncancellable,") gave Angelo's a score of 9.1.
"I said, listen, I need some advice ... what do I expect here?" Bello said. "He said, it ain't going to go away."
Bello said his options are to buy more refrigerator space, but then he'll also need more oven space. Right now he's only got three coolers and two small ovens. He also has to consider the hours he's spending away from his family, which includes daughters age 10 and 7 and an 8-year-old son with autism.
It's Bello's son that was the inspiration for his charity, Fredi the PizzaMan Foundation. Besides an influx of media attention and pizza sales, this week Bello has seen upwards of $26,000 in donations for the foundation, which supplies Michigan schools with equipment for sensory rooms. Bello said in the past he's purchased around $40,000 worth of equipment for 18 Michigan schools.
"I buy sensory equipment, which could be trampolines, ball pits, pads, lighting systems," he said, adding that fundraising alone is like a full-time job. "When I go (to the schools), they cry because no one is helping them."
As for the pizza business, Bello said he'll continue serving as many customers as he can, and asks that the public bear with him.
"There’s no way of planning for this," he said. "I’ve been in business for 40 years. I’ve never, ever seen anything like this in my life."
Fredi the PizzaMan, 17900 Allen in Melvindale, typically opens at 11 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They aren't able to take phone orders at this time. Daily updates about service can be found at Bello's Twitter, @FrediThePizzamn.
Visit fredithepizzaman.com for more information on the Fredi the PizzaMan Foundation's fundraising efforts.