Mastro made a good living, but that wasn’t his only goal.
“My father did all this purposefully to help Italians who
were su;ering during the Depression,” Ferrentino says.
“;ey were su;ering so much because they had such big
families. I remember my father speaking to the men on
the Bowery who were in the business, and their primary
focus was to get the country working and to get us out
of the Depression. Pizza was one of the cheapest foods
you could make, so that’s why he chose it.”
PIONEERING THE PIZZA BOX
Mastro reportedly sold more than 3,000 pizza ovens
between 1938 and 1953. Dubbed the “Pizza King” by
the media, he became an industry celebrity, profiled in
publications like Restaurant Equipment Dealer, Cooking
for Profit and the Miami Herald and featured on Mr.
Executive on New York’s WABD-TV in 1955. To spark
more sales, Mastro opened his own pizzerias in certain
neighborhoods to prove the concept, then sold them o;,
“breaking even on the property, but way ahead in terms
of reputation and goodwill—and new business,” as he
explained to Restaurant Equipment Dealer.
He continued to fine-tune his pizza ovens, but that
wasn’t his only innovation. Ferrentino believes her dad
invented the pizza box, too. “He sold so much white craft
paper and string—that’s what they used for takeout,” she
says. “So he asked his manufacturers to make these card-
board pizza boxes. He had a hard time getting someone
to make them. But he was always listening to his custom-
ers—they’d ask if this or that was available, and if it wasn’t,
he’d try to get it made.”
Meanwhile, Mastro groomed his three kids, includ-
ing Ferrentino, son Vinnie and daughter Mary, to run
the business. Ferrentino attended Trinity College during
WWII and planned to become an attorney “because
the company needed one so badly,” she says. “But my
counselor told me, ‘Madeline, you’re a woman, and it’s
going to be harder for you to practice. You’ll have to be
overqualified.’” She married and moved away instead.
Fortunately, her brother, Vinnie, soon proved he had his
father’s head for business.
THE PRINCE TAKES OVER
At the height of his success, Frank Mastro fell ill with
lip cancer. ;rough the power of his gas ovens and other
innovations, he had spread pizza to all five New York boroughs and other major cities along the eastern seaboard.
“He was definitely a genius, but he was such a regular,
wonderful person,” Ferrentino says, fondly.
When Mastro died in 1957, obituaries for the 60-year-
old “Pizza King” ran in newspapers around the country.
Fortunately for the company he’d built and dearly loved,
Although it’s hard to prove, Madeline Ferrentino believes her dad, Frank Mastro, introduced the folding pizza box to the industry. He certainly ordered a lot of them for his
customers, as these old documents attest.