"Greetings from the family."
"Greetings from the family."
Villa Palermo's open courtyard.
Villa Palermo's open courtyard.
Mercato seats about 60.
Mercato seats about 60.
Local products are for sale in Mercato, along with Palermo's clothing, kitchen items and more.
Local products are for sale in Mercato, along with Palermo's clothing, kitchen items and more.

Palermo's pizza tour is cheesy in a good way

Anyone who loves pizza can take their penchant for Italian pie to the next level with the Palermo's Pizza Factory Tour.

The tours takes place inside "Villa Palermo," 3301 W. Canal St. The massive, U-shaped structure – inspired by a 16th century villa located outside the Tuscan city of Siena – houses the Palermo's corporate offices, manufacturing facility, pizzeria / cafe and Mercado, a new company store and casual dining area.

The tour, which lasts about an hour, is divided into three parts: a 20-minute video, a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing process and, of course, pizza eating. (Pizza topping preferences are taken at the time of reserving spots on the tour. Cheese, sausage, pepperoni, breakfast and supreme are available).

Tour director Barb Hess has worked for Palermo's for 26 years and is a natural at her job. She's conversational and engaging – particularly to kids – and infuses the tour with a warm personality. At one point she got the group to even sing a few lines from the Dean Martin song "That's Amore."

Families, individuals and groups – scout troops, school groups, seniors and more – are invited to attend the tour. Group tours for groups up to 30 people run Monday-Thursday at 10 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Public tours are Fridays at 1:30 p.m.

There are two available tours. Tour A is $5 and includes the tour, a large slice of pizza and a Palermo's souvenir. Tour B is $7.50 and a Palermo's T-shirt instead of a souvenir. With one paid admission, one child under 5 is free.

It's important to make reservations for a tour. "Especially when schools are closed," says Hess. "Every kid wants to see how a pizza is made."

The theme of "family" is reinforced throughout the tour. The video highlights the Fallucca family, which founded Palermo's in Milwaukee in 1964 and still owns the business today. The words "Saluti dalla Famiglia" ("Greetings from the Family") welcome visitors in the main lobby. Many of the tables are pushed together in the Mercado area for a "family style" eating experience.

Plus, Hess speaks of family throughout the tour. She is patient and jokes with children and references her own now-grown kids.

"Everything is geared toward family here," she says.

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