The Unique Flavors of Fugazzis RestaurantsSep 30, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos by Salina Marroquin
NO ONE KNEW what the future held when Mike and Deborah Fligor began going steady in the sixth grade. Married now for 48 years and successful restaurant entrepreneurs, the couple from Ohio has successfully built a Valley culinary favorite in the restaurant and catering business of Fugazzis.
Mike, a businessman at heart, has spent his career in the corporate world. Prior to opening the doors to Fugazzis in 1997, Mike and Deborah were part of the pizza world, owning a chain of take-n-bake pizza shops. Unable to compete with larger pizza delivery chains and unbeatable deals, the Fligors decided to close shop and begin a new venture.
The first Fugazzis restaurant opened in Hanford and brought a unique taste and style to the Valley restaurant scene. Ironically, in an effort to create a name and
image that couldn’t be easily stolen or duplicated, Mike borrowed the name, Fugazzis, from a small coffee shop in Eastern Washington. The original goal of the restaurant was simple: get the company off the ground while paying the bills. But the restaurant’s success grew quickly and Mike’s dreams began to expand.
The Visalia Main Street location was opened not long after and became an instant favorite. Culinary delights of sweet potato fries and cream cheese-filled Xangos quickly stole the hearts of foodies. For years Mike and Deborah welcomed diners on weekend nights as hungry patrons entered the dark restaurant donned in geometric swirls, stainless steel tables and an ambience that transformed a typical night into a decadent dining experience.
As Fugazzis’ popularity grew, the Fligors expanded the business to Tulare and added a second Visalia location with a fast-casual feel. Even as Mike was busy with multiple locations, he recognized an opportunity in the downtown Visalia locale. The restaurant began to morph. A walk-up window was installed and a to-go component was added to the dining options, a perfect lunch choice for downtown businesses and hospital employees. Additionally, the square footage grew as a new banquet hall was opened behind the kitchen.
Despite Mike’s success, he has a humble spirit and is quick to brag about his employees’ capabilities. “We have a great team. That’s how we’re able to do what we do. The team makes it all happen.” The Fugazzis franchise employs around 150 people, many of whom Mike refers to as his “kids.” A handful of employees have been a part of the Fugazzis family for nearly 20 years.
Gabriel Diaz began working as a server at Fugazzis when he was 20 and worked his way up to lead server within three years. Diaz remembers how Mike took him under his wing, “Bossman saw something in me. He gave me an opportunity to manage, open other locations and be part of a growing catering company. I now oversee all the restaurants and catering company with the help of a great team of leaders. When you work with someone like Bossman, you pick some great things up: leadership skills, honesty and great business ethics.”
It is important to Mike to be a part of the lives of his hardworking employees. He enjoys the opportunity to mentor and finds it thrilling to see his employees grow and thrive.
Fugazzis is built on a philosophy of growth while remaining anchored to the company’s core principles. “We can never rely on what worked yesterday. We are a dynamic and ever-changing environment. We adapt each day to life’s challenges. Fugazzis’ success depends on our ability to stay in front of the wave. We must adapt to our surroundings but never surrender our values and beliefs.” Mike’s philosophy has helped carry the company through seasons of national economic struggle while continuing to grow as a franchise.
Mike claims he is a “businessman, not a food guy,” but he too savors the delicious tastes of Fugazzis’ unique cuisine, favoring the Chicken Chipotle Pasta as his dish of choice. The chefs create exceptional combinations of flavor. In an effort to bring a little competitive fire to the kitchen, Mike created “Friday Night Food Wars” where the chefs battle to whip up original and popular specials.
Retiring doesn’t seem to be in Mike’s vocabulary. Since opening the first restaurant, he and Deborah continue to expand, always looking for a new venture and willing to sell food anytime, anywhere. The Fligors widened the breadth of their business from the brick-and-mortar locations into the realm of catering. Fugazzis caters events throughout the Valley, from birthdays to weddings to baby showers. Additionally, Mike and Deborah opened two wedding venues: Victorian Gardens and Westwood Barns. Between these two venues, Fugazzis partakes in 50-60 weddings annually.
It is important to Mike and Deborah to participate in the Valley’s communities and philanthropic efforts. “We don’t deserve anything. We have worked very hard and God has blessed us,” Mike says. Many local organizations are thankful for the kindness of Fugazzis.
The Fligors may be attempting a slower pace in life, as they travel more and visit their five grandchildren, but their dreams continue to grow. A new location recently opened in Kingsburg with another soon to open in Porterville. Not long ago, the Cypress location in Visalia began serving breakfast. Additionally, a completely new restaurant with a different name, style and cuisine will be opening in downtown Visalia soon. •
Fugazzi’s Restaurants • www.fugazzisbistro.com
Locations: Kingsburg, Hanford, Visalia, Tulare and coming soon to Porterville • Find them on Facebook and Instagram