Auburn mourns beloved La Pizza owner

Richard LaFramboise, better known as “Papa La Pizza” to the legions of Bay City Western students who frequented his Auburn pizzeria for generations, died Feb. 7. He was 82 years old.

LaFramboise, who lived to serve pizza and his prized breadsticks with side conversation with so many young people for 36 years at La Pizza, had battled COVID-19 and pneumonia.

Until he fell ill a few weeks ago, the beloved businessman worked, six days a week, alongside his wife, Barb, and the couple’s three daughters in the family business which he and his wife opened in 1986.

“He and mum would be here on Sundays if it weren’t for the fact that we’re closed,” said his daughter Rique Schanck, who has worked at La Pizza since its inception and now manages the restaurant. “Dad lived for the hugs and the friendships he developed. All the kids who came here called him Papa La Pizza. He had quite a few supporters.”

We are located at 709 W. Midland Road, across from Western High School. An age-old custom through the years, which continues today, is for students to cross the street on their lunch break to grab a bite and an ear from Papa La Pizza – who was often surrounded by one or more of his 14 grandchildren.

“Dad loved bs,” an emotional Schanck said. “He was such a wonderful, great man. Everyone at Auburn loved him.

Less than two weeks have passed since her death, but Schanck, as she has since 1986, is at work at La Pizza. That’s what the family does, and they, one day at a time, do their best to keep the popular establishment running. Schanck points to a chair, covered with a coat, near the store’s soft serve ice cream machine.

“Nobody wants to move it,” she said. “This is the last place we saw him in good health. Dad spent two weeks in intensive care. He was in so much pain. It was hard to watch. »

Lee Kilbourn is the mayor of Auburn and, like LaFramboise, a longtime respected family businessman. Kilbourn and his wife, Kathy, are the second-generation owners of Tri-City Furniture, which is in its 65sand year in business in Auburn.

“I wasn’t close to him, but I respected Rich and appreciated everything he did for his family and Auburn,” Kilbourn said. “He worked hard to succeed and it paid off. He built a great business, raised a great family, and supported this town when and where he could. We will miss him.”

LaFramboise’s family is devastated.

“Her dogs are lost, mom is a mess…it’s so hard,” Schanck said. “The folks at Auburn have been great. Everyone comes to the window to cry with us.

Most notably, “we” includes Schanck’s sisters Michelle Hampton and Yvonne VanTol. They too are part of La Pizza.

LaFramboise was a longtime supporter of Western High School and other local schools. In honor of the baker of thousands of breadsticks for students over the years, Western sponsored a “Papa La Pizza Food Drive” at the school on Wednesday.

“He was just a great gentleman,” said Western High principal Judy Cox. “The children launched the effort to honor Mr. LaFramboise through a ‘Leadworthy’ class taught by Ann Riffel. The fact that the kids took the lead makes it even better. That’s how it’s supposed to work. They had a cool conversation about it and did it. It was amazing.”

A Facebook post on the drive reached 23,147 people. All donated food goes to Auburn’s pantry.

“We appreciate the school honoring Dad’s legacy,” Schanck said. “It’s so nice to see the outpouring of support and love from this community.”

Food can bond, and La Pizza’s signature breadsticks have been part of many special moments for kids and families for 36 years. Ordering a pie at La Pizza without breadsticks is a rookie mistake. The locals know better.

“We sell over three tons of breadsticks a month,” Schanck said, artfully omitting the family secret of tasty treats, but suggesting that the dough be made with love every day. “We sell more than three tons of breadsticks per month.”

According to Schanck, La Pizza has been overnighting its breadsticks all over the country.

“We have long-time customers who got off a plane and came here straight to get breadsticks,” she said, a smile creasing her face. “I remember dad saying about a guy, ‘How dare he stop here before he even went to see his mum?’ We definitely have lovers of our breadsticks.

Schanck recalls another client, a culinary school graduate who had worked in Europe.

“He told me he can’t get this bread, he can’t make this bread and he hasn’t tasted anything else anywhere. It’s special to hear.

La Pizza is such a family affair that each of Barb and Richard LaFramboise’s 14 grandchildren have, at one time or another, worked there.

Following LaFramboise’s untimely passing, it’s too early to tell what the future holds for Auburn’s pizzeria, but there’s no doubt the community is working hard to ensure La Pizza is here for many more. years to come.

“There are certain people and certain places that are identified with a city,” Kilbourn said. “Rich LaFramboise and La Pizza have long been part of Auburn. We hope the family will stay.