Milwaukee's East Side loses a food icon
February 25th, 2012
03:00 AM ET
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Last week, Milwaukee lost a walking institution when Frank “Pepperoni Cannoli Guy” Pecoraro died. He was 76.

To those born and raised in Brew City, it’s fair to say the East Side nightlife scene wouldn’t be complete without spotting him with a cooler full of snacks.

Standing barely over five-feet tall, Pecoraro could be seen walking for miles on end carrying - you guessed it - pepperoni and cannoli inside his signature blue and white cooler.

Having immigrated to the United States during the 1960s from Italy, he had a distinct bellowing voice that would grow hoarse by the end of the night after repeatedly calling out, “Pepperoni! Cannoli!”

pepperoni frank

If you stopped to buy some goodies, he would say,“You like da spicy?” followed by whatever the going price was. Last time I lived there he was asking $2.

“His English was as good as my Italian,” said Joseph Turecek, owner of Fat Joe’s Hot Dog Cart, letting out a monster laugh. “He’d twist his finger in his cheek and say ‘You’re good.’ I still don’t know what that means.”

The night they met, Pecoraro came by Fat Joe’s hot dog stand on a bitterly cold night, he recalled. Frank entered his makeshift canopy heated by a propane tank to get warm.

They talked for hours and became friends.

Pecoraro would always stop by in winter to warm up, and in summer to chat. He would devour the Italian beef sandwiches that Turecek gave him, and often times Turecek would give him a ride home if he downed too many shots usually bought for him by bar patrons.

“He was a character. He had a long life. He was an icon, but also had a family, and kids,” Turecek said. “He just picked a unique way of making his way through this world. He did what he had to do to get by.”

The butcher-turned-pepperoni-and-cannoli-slinger was both surly and sweet. And if the college kids got frisky, he had no problem railing off in Italian.

It wasn’t all rosy for Pecoraro. Sadly, he did get beat up and robbed.

“One time he came to my stand with a black eye after getting hit with a metal pipe,” Turecek said. “But there he was, right at it again the next day.”

On weekends he'd magically appear from nowhere to make his rounds. He’d still be out at bar close, hawking his wares, finally disappearing when he was all sold out of pepperoni or his wife's cannoli, a rich Italian pastry.

The news of his death spread quickly online and over social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

His death came as a shock for people, like me, who grew up on Milwaukee's East Side. I lived in the same neighborhood as Frank, and during the day you could catch him making the rounds at businesses or walking his dog. We’d pass each other on the street offering friendly hellos or acknowledge each other with brief nod of the head.

“I didn’t know anything about him, but I knew he’d always be there,” said my college friend Leslie Brown, now a social worker in Phoenix. “You could buy him a drink, he’d dance with you a bit, smile and keep it moving.”

“A part of you breaks hearing this news,” she said. “It makes you think. When you have people in your life like that, get their story.”

Popular Milwaukee DJ Kid Cut Up, now living in Los Angeles, recalled performing with the legendary figure almost a decade ago.

“That was my best experience that I had with him. He pretty much had a mic and said 'Pepperoni! Cannoli!' while DJ Kris Loveless spun records,” he said. “If you grew up on the East Side or hung our there, he is part of the Milwaukee lore, the Milwaukee story.”

My older brother Tim Hoye ran into Frank a few years ago near bar close. He was out of pepperoni, but had cannoli.

“This shadowy figure came from outside the bar, and it was a man with a cooler," he said. "He could easily have been mistaken for a homeless man until you heard, 'Pepperoni cannoli!' It’s an odd thing to sell cannoli at bar time, because a cannoli and a Pabst is probably not ideal, but it works in Milwaukee.”

Frank is survived by his wife, Rosaria; children, Rosalia (Franco) Barbara and Salvatore Pecoraro; 3 grandchildren; 1 great-grandson. Still in mourning, Frank’s children declined to comment for this story, simply saying they want their father to rest in peace.

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soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. USA

    Rest In Peace Sir.

    February 28, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  2. zappafrank

    I'm a male who's only 5 feet tall. It's encouraging to know that men my height can still find love and have families, despite society's expectations.

    February 28, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • commonsensical1

      who cares how tall you are, troll? go to he// ...

      February 28, 2012 at 6:05 am |
      • zappafrank

        Did you even read the article? It's something I struggle with in this society, and he is an inspiration.

        February 28, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  3. Yossarian

    He sounds like someone who'd be fun to hang out with. Rest in peace, purveyor of fine pepperoni and cannoli.

    February 27, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  4. KanneM

    I was raised in Milwaukee (from the age of six months), after being born in Green Bay. I live here still. While I didn't attend UWM, I have spent a great deal of time on the East Side; Brady Street, North Avenue, Farwell Avenue, et cetera. I've never even heard of the Pepperoni, Cannoli fella. Not once. Until now. Go figure.

    February 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Gluteus Maximus

      That makes you a gerbil.

      February 28, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  5. Anonomous Coward

    He was a Milwaukee Icon, and bar time will never be the same again.

    February 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  6. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    He looks drunk in that picture.

    February 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm |

      It also could have been real cold that day, this is Milwaukee and the east side is right by the lake the wind comming off it can be chilling. But yeah Frank would do a shot with you if you bought him one.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  7. sylvan finkelstein

    sounds lioke your dad was a wonderful guy

    February 27, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. Mike

    Thought about posting this on my facebook except stupid and ignorant comments from sub humans like Giffy decided not.
    Rest in peace Mr, Pecoraro.

    February 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  9. rocket

    Reading comprehension anyone? Nowhere does it say He was born and raised in Milwaukee, reread the paragraph again.

    February 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm |

      The whole "born and raised in Milwaukee" thing should not be in the article anyone who has spent time on MKE's east side (which I have lived near for over 10 years) knows that most of the people there or at least the ones out a bar time are mostly transplants.

      I don't expect anyone who hasn't been to MKE to understand, but to me his voice bellowing "Pepperoni Cannoli!" was the sound of Milwaukee, it was the sound of home. It was a great clash to see him out at the east sides bars, selling his food, to kids 40 years younger than him. The man took no sh!t from anyone and I saw him do many a shot. He liked to have a good time and the Pepperoni's & Cannoli's were really good.

      Rip, Frank Pepperoni Cannoli!

      When you get to heaven Do a shot with the big J and try to sell him a Pepperoni Cannoli!

      February 27, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
      • Valerie

        We feel the same way in here in weren't born and raised here, you are just a transplant.

        February 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
        • Maty

          That's a welcoming attitude! Couldn't folks moving to your city from elsewhere mean it's a great place to live, thus, a compliment?

          February 27, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  10. goingfast

    Let's see a show of hands of those that care..

    February 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • LSD

      Buzz off, goingfast, while we say our goodbyes to the cannoli guy..

      February 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Bob

      There surely won't be any when you leave this earth.

      February 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
      • IHEG


        February 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • anahadwolves

      Hey, goingfast: when you die, nobody is going to waste an entire hand waving goodbye to you...they'll just use a single finger.

      February 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Lauryl

      Obviously, a lot of people care, or this wouldn't have gone viral and made CNN, would it?

      February 26, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Boo

      Gee...guess noone will ever accuse you of having empathy and compassion.

      February 27, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  11. Dee

    I grew up on the East side and remember this guy hollering on Brady Street or North Avenue – it was characters like him and Dick Bacon (Google it) that made the city so quirky. Rest in peace, cannoli man.

    February 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • the law

      Amen, good man....

      February 25, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  12. Patiat

    How is it that he was "born and raised in Brew City" if he "immigrated to the United States during the 1960s from Italy"?

    February 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Giffy

      Please re-read slowly.

      February 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
      • hello

        You simply can't type slowly enough for some people.

        February 25, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
        • Miss Marcy

          CNN rewrote that paragraph after I posted. It did NOT originally say "to those born and raised."

          February 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Kate

      It doesn't say that he was born in raised in Brew City, it says 'To those born and raised in Brew City.....'

      He was a cool, quirky character that I remember fondly from my years at UWM. RIP...North Ave won't be the same without you.

      February 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  13. matt

    So was he born in Milwaukee like it says in paragraph 2 or did he immigrate from Italy in the 1960s in paragraph 4?

    February 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Miss Marcy

      LOL. Another functional illiterate masquerading as a writer.

      February 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
      • davsuehen

        re-read the article, it reads "to those born and raised" not, "he was born and raised", please fact check before calling somebody a "functional illiterate."

        February 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • oscar

      "To those born and raised in Brew City"

      February 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Pat

    Wow, the Pepperoni Cannoli man is gone! But who is the cute young girl in the picture with him?

    February 25, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • Walter

      Yes who is she? A very familiar face, is it Basia?

      February 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
      • koolgrl97

        Well the picture is courtesy of Krysten Manthe so that might be a better start at finding out who she is than Basia.....just sayin.

        February 27, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Caroline

      Loser. You would miss the whole point of the picture.

      February 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • hello

      When I roll my mouse pointer over her face, it says 'pepperoni frank'. Does that mean she likes me?

      February 25, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
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