Fratelli Ravioli, family pasta business and Brooklyn institution renowned for fresh pastas and homemade sauces, died last week of acute franchise failure. It was 28 years old.
A Court Street fixture since 1978, the Mom-and-Pop ravioli business was started by Raymond Vivola and his wife Josephine. Soon, the store was turning out more than a dozen different kinds of ravioli, and was being called “A taste of the neighborhood.”
“It was a neighborhood success story,” said Larry Vivola, Raymond’s son, who took over the business in 1990 with his brother, Christian.
The business’s stunning success led the brothers Vivola to move the company headquarters to a production facility in Red Hook, and begin franchising their business throughout the tri-state area.
They soon had stores in New Jersey and Connecticut, and had opened an offshoot of the business called Frats Ices in Park Slope, selling fried ravioli and homemade desserts.
Their business was so successful that the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce awarded the brothers with the 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Life seemed as golden as fresh ravioli.
But as Vivola came to realize, “Franchising was our downfall. I bought into the hype and I lost everything.” The franchising that had seemed to cement Fratelli’s place as a successful nationwide chain was actually its death sentence.
The franchised stores were not run well, said Vivola, and the people running them had no vested interest in the family name or reputation.
“Most people, when they think of franchising, they think of McDonald’s,” he said. “But in reality, the risks are much higher.”
Vivola’s now running a consulting company in Arizona, where he lives. His new passion is warning other small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs of the huge risks of franchising their businesses.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is sticking by the Vivolas — they have no plans to take back the award they gave them. “The nature of business is that people work really hard and you can’t ever take that hard work back,” said spokeswoman Leticia Theodore.
Though he mourns his dead company — he even held an online wake on Fratelli’s Web site (www.frate
“Our product outlived the company,” he said.