BIDDEFORD — In the kitchen of Coletti’s Pizza Factory on a recent weekday afternoon, Francesco Coletti – or Frank as he’s known to customers, friends and fans – was excited to demonstrate exactly what sets his pies apart from the pack.

“I’ll show you the brain of the dough,” the native Neapolitan said in his heavy, lilting accent as he pulled some of his portioned, proofing pizza dough from the refrigerator. “If you don’t get the brain of the dough, it’s not going to be a good pizza. Let’s see what we got in here.”

He sliced into the dough ball with a knife and pulled it open to reveal a honeycomb of varied-size air pockets.

“When it’s baked, it’s almost like eating a beautiful baguette,” Coletti said, noting that he proofs his dough at least 15 hours and up to five days, depending on a host of variables such as weather conditions and the vitality of the yeast. “It’s so light, it’s like a pizza cloud. If the dough is not good, it doesn’t matter if you have the best sauce, best cheese and toppings in the whole world, it won’t taste right.”

Coletti pulls apart his pizza dough to show air pockets inside, which he calls the “brain of the dough.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The growing popularity of Coletti’s Pizza Factory on Elm Street is a testament to its owner’s devotion to his dough. In January, Yelp ranked Coletti’s No. 31 on its list of the top 100 pizzerias in the United States and Canada based on factors like how many five-star ratings they received and the total volume of reviews.

During Coletti’s busiest periods – last summer, for instance – his peak sales amounted to about 600 pizzas a week. Pizza is the only thing he sells. But since word spread about the restaurant’s Yelp ranking, demand for his pies has spiked. He now makes as many as 700 pizzas a week, and sometimes cranks out up to 200 pizzas on a Friday. And he does so almost single-handedly.


The Yelp list has been such a boon that Coletti says while his shop has retained its regulars, his business of late has been as much as 90 percent from new customers.

Coletti, who grew up in Naples, pulls a Mediterranean pizza out of the oven. It’s one of 10 varieties of pizza he serves. And pizza is the only thing he serves. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


As if to illustrate the point, two separate parties entered Coletti’s during the slower, mid-afternoon hours to tell him they’d caught word of his Yelp ranking and were eager to try his pizza. They scanned the cozy dining room at the front of the restaurant, its walls hung with an eclectic selection of scenic photos of Italy and autographed memorabilia from grateful performing artists – Paul Anka, the heavy metal band Warrant, the comedian Carrot Top – he’d served years earlier at a restaurant he opened in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Coletti’s regular customers arrived in a steady stream to pick up their orders.

“I don’t like a big doughy pizza. This is the best pizza around, hands down,” said Jason Cyr of Biddeford, who’s been coming to Coletti’s practically weekly since it opened in 2016. “I tell everyone. The ingredients are wicked fresh.”

“Where I grew up, in Meriden, Connecticut, we had great Italian pizza, so you kind of get spoiled,” said customer Steve Kerner of Biddeford. “When I tried Coletti’s earlier this year, it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is like eating pizza from my childhood.’ You could even get it plain and it would taste great. I haven’t had pizza this good probably since the last time I went to New York City.”


Employee Ben Holt, who helps Coletti with kitchen prep work, said Coletti’s often gets customers from pizza strongholds like New Jersey, New York or New Haven, Connecticut.

“And they’re always like, ‘I know real pizza,’” Holt said, mimicking the air of superiority he detects in their voices. “And then after eating here, they’re like, ‘This may be the best I’ve ever had.’”

Delilah Poupore, executive director of the downtown organization Heart of Biddeford, noted that her restaurant-rich town has an alluring array of locally owned pizza shops, from TJ’s Pizza to the 63-year-old Greek-style personal pies at Pizza By Alex – “practically a religious institution in town,” she says – to the elevated offerings at Portland Pie Co. and Otto; the latter opened a location down the road from Coletti’s earlier this year.

Poupore said she believes Coletti’s has such a strong following “because it’s uncompromisingly Italian. I have definitely found that Biddeford people really care that the chefs are committed to their cuisine and culture. And I get the impression that (Frank) has extreme attention to detail, so each pizza is just right.”

Any talk of attention to detail naturally brings Coletti right back to his dough: how much yeast he uses depending on the atmospheric conditions, how he spins the dough ball in the mixer, exactly when he adds the salt.

“That’s how I learned to make the best dough. I mastered it from f-ing it up all the time,” said Coletti, a charming, highly energetic man unafraid to use colorful language or drop f-bombs, sometimes frequently, sometimes even with new customers.


But to his point, Coletti did indeed take a roundabout route to mastering pizza dough.

Francesco Coletti stretches a pizza dough. “If the dough is not good, it doesn’t matter if you have the best sauce, best cheese and toppings in the whole world,” he says, “it won’t taste right.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


As a child, Coletti recalls spending free time sitting in a Naples pizzeria near his home so he could watch the pizzaiolo work his oven. “I was fascinated by the flame from the oven,” he said. “There was just something about that.”

In 1993, when he was 17, Coletti left Italy for Ohio. He had a friend who worked in hospitality living near Sandusky, and figured he could parlay the connection into a future for himself. “I wanted to follow my dream, own my own business and go make money,” Coletti said.

By 2000, he’d opened Coletti’s in Sandusky, a full-service Italian restaurant serving pizza, sandwiches, salads, a variety of appetizers and more. He flipped through a souvenir menu he’d kept from the venue, wincing at what he now considers to be a fatal lack of focus.

He had a business partner at his Ohio restaurant, and didn’t have full creative control over the menu. In time, he grew frustrated with what he felt was a lack of concern for quality. Coletti sold his share in the business to his partner, and visited Italy for a few months, where his father and brother had opened their own pizzeria in the pizza mecca of Naples in 2010. The visit helped inspire him to open a place all his own, this time one that would let him concentrate exclusively on pizza.


“That’s when I came up with a menu of one style of pizza, one size of pizza, one thing – I didn’t want to have anything else. Because they do that in Italy, I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I do that?’”

Coletti returned to the states in 2011, this time settling in Maine. “I said, ‘I’m from the ocean. If I’m going to live in America, I may as well live somewhere I like near the ocean.’ I like seafood and the smell of the sea.”

He worked for a period at Quirk Fiat in Portland as a car salesman and as a server at the former Biddeford Olive Garden to amass the funds he needed to open his own place. By 2016, after buying a used pizza oven off Craigslist for $500 with his Olive Garden tip money, he was able to launch Coletti’s Pizza Factory in its current location on Route 1, south of the downtown center.

Coletti checks the underside of a pizza. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


The oven broke down after about a year, and he replaced it with an oven usually used to make New York pizza. By jacking the unit up to 650 degrees – its highest setting, and at least 100 degrees hotter than New York-style pizzas usually bake at – Coletti landed on the right alchemical conditions to create his uniquely alluring pies, which he describes as a “hybrid” of New York slices and Neapolitan pizza.

Coletti has metal flame baffles for his oven that have warped and even split open from being subjected to such high temperatures daily. But while he has to replace his baffles more regularly than the oven manufacturer might recommend, the intense heat makes his crust airy and crisp with a satisfying chew and delectable light charring on the edges and bottom.


“When people come in here, they say, ‘That wood smells good.’ They always think it’s wood-fired. It’s not wood. It’s the heat and the dough. They think it’s wood because we know how to make the dough right.

“My pizza reminds people about New York-style pizza, and at the same time it reminds them of Italy,” continued Coletti, whose menu could not be simpler: 10 pies to choose from, all 14-inch, eight-slice pies, priced from $12.50 to $22. No sandwiches, salads or fried appetizers, just pizza made as well as he knows how.

“This is the lightest pizza you ever had,” Coletti said. “I tell people, ‘You eat my pizza, you’re not going to get fat. You’re going to lose weight.”

When told he seems to stay fit for someone who runs a pizza restaurant, Coletti lifts up the front of his black t-shirt to reveal his bare belly. “Look, I almost have an eight pack,” he said, slapping his trim – if not quite ripped – stomach. “Except I don’t.”

He says he’s down almost 50 pounds from his maximum weight of 210 pounds, the load he carried when he was living in Sandusky. He attributes his weight loss and current health to the kinds of food he serves at Coletti’s: fresh, never-frozen – he doesn’t even have a freezer in the kitchen – non-GMO ingredients, nitrate-free meats, and of course, properly formed dough.

Coletti also prides himself on his ability to whip up as many as 40 pizzas an hour. He is certainly a dynamo in his spacious kitchen, playing his pizza peel like an air guitar and whirling around the room from task to task: passing Italian canned tomatoes through a food mill to make sauce, pressing and spreading his dough on a pizza peel to top it, plucking fresh basil leaves off the stems to place, along with sauce, on each pie he makes.

Coletti takes orders and talks with customers. Lately, regulars have been greatly outnumbered by newcomers who heard about the Yelp ranking and have stopped by to check the pizza out. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Coletti said his restaurant has grown by 25 to 30 percent each year since he opened. “I’m going to be 48 in July. But I’m 90 years old, as hard as I work,” he said with a grim smile to an appreciative customer.

But the recent spike in business has made Coletti – who, as practically a one-man show, also takes customer orders on the phone and at the front register – decide to hire servers and kitchen assistants for the coming summer season. Kitchen assistants, it should be stressed, because Coletti will not turn over the weighty responsibilities of making the dough and baking the pizzas to anyone.

“I don’t let nobody make pizza here,” he said. “It’s always just me. Because nobody cares like I do. Who’s going to do the pizza like I do?”

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