by Lisa Tome
If Tom and Karen Bicking's friends were searching for them on Friday night, they knew exactly where to look.
For 13 years, the couple, their daughters, and assorted friends and family, were occupying a table or two at Frank's Pizza in North East Plaza. A three-alarm fire swept through the restaurant and nearby shops early Thursday morning.
"Ninety percent of the time on Friday night, it was Frank's. If we didn't go there, we picked food up from there and had it at the house," said Karen Bicking.
And it wasn't just recently that they became fans of the restaurant. For a decade, between 1980-1990, Tom's parents owned Colonial Florist which had been in the plaza. They also ate at Frank's frequently during that time.
"When we would go in, they would tell us our order," explained the couple, who live in Charlestown. They became Frank's Friday night regulars when their daughters - Kara, 23, and Megan, 20, were in elementary school.
"We were always there with friends and extended family. It would be our parents, friends, or different people. The most we had at a table on one night was 12 people," the Bickings said.
If they had a party at home, they also ordered food from Frank's. One year, for Megan's birthday, the Frank's staff spelled out "Happy Birthday" in pepperoni. Daughter Kara called the fire and subsequent closure of the restaurant a "life-altering event."
"We've run into a lot of people we know there on Friday nights. It was kind of like Cheers, everybody knows your name," said Tom.
While their pizza place of choice didn't waver, the family's order changed only a few times over the years. Their typical order was an extra large cheese, an extra large pepperoni, cheese fries, and a small half and half pizza. Recently, they got hooked on cheese steak pizza.
"You can't just pick a new pizza place," Karen said. "The pizza is just really good there. I finished leftover pizza from there Wednesday for lunch. If I would have known (the fire was coming), I would have frozen it."
"I hope they rebuild. I hope they can," said Tom.
"Megan is in Texas. She wants it rebuilt by the time she comes home in January," Karen said.
"The store never changed. It's the same. The owner and staff were nice and they always talked to us," Tom said.
Tom, who is assistant chief at Charlestown Fire Company, worked at the scene early Thursday morning during the fire. He said he had been to small fires in the restaurant before. He knew this time was different. He said while responding to the fire, he knew it was bad.
"I saw a cloud of smoke coming up (while on board an engine on Route 40). I knew we were in for a long haul," he said.
The couple knows they are not alone in their sadness in the wake of the fire.
"I've heard a lot of people say they grew up on Frank's pizza," said Karen.
"I feel bad for the 30 or so employees that don't have a place to go. The people there lost their jobs and businesses," Tom said.
This past Friday night, the couple headed out again. They said their mission was to find pizza that tastes like Frank's, if only temporarily.