Pizza, Love and Happiness on the Mendocino Coast

by Esther Liner

Owners S.A. Ephraim and Ruth Rosenbaum bought Frankie’s Ice Cream Parlor in 2007, when their son Yoel was still a toddler. Deeply passionate about community activism, sustainability, and great food, the couple established their business practices based on the kind of world they want everyone’s children to inherit. They live by this ethical truth: What is best for the Earth is what’s best for us all.

The family of humankind is diverse, but if there is one nearly universal truth people can agree on, it’s that pizza and ice cream are friggin’ delicious. While these staples are a hit with kids of all ages, Frankie’s caters to everyone in the family— carnivores, vegans, the gluten free, the gluten forward, dairy lovers, lactose intolerant, diabetics. There is something for everyone on their menu that is fresh, delicious, ethically sourced and predominantly organic. Their beer and wine list showcases brews and wines local to Mendocino County, like Anderson Valley Brewing Company and McFadden Winery. Whenever possible, they source ingredients locally. They worked with Cowlick’s, a local Ice Creamery, to get high fructose corn syrup out of their recipes. While organic can sometimes be synonymous with added expense, a family of four can have salad, share a large pizza, and get ice cream for dessert for around $12 a head, making Frankie’s one of the most affordable places to eat in the Village of Mendocino.

Operating Frankie’s at zero waste, their compost feeds the Mendocino Community Garden. They have trained both their staff and customers to be eagle-eyed about proper recycling practices and thoughtful about when their eco friendly to-go ware is really necessary, or if a cone or just sitting down for a minute to eat will do. If you’re eating in, you’re eating off ceramic dishes with metal flatware. Even in peak season, with lines out the door, Frankie’s still averages approximately 220 gallons of water use a day. Compare that to the statewide average for California single family households, which some studies estimate as high as 360 gallons.

In the time that Yoel has grown into a young man, generations of local families and return visitors have had Frankie’s as a home base in the Mendocino Village. Ruth says, “We absolutely believe it takes a village to raise a child. Kids we’ve known who were just babies, playing around upstairs when we first started, now come in on their lunch break from High School or come down from the Middle School to hang out after school. We love it. They also know we know their parents, so everyone’s pretty much on their best behavior.”

Set in the beautifully renovated, Victorian era Jacob Stauer House, Frankie’s is a parlor in the truest sense of the term—a place for people to gather, relax, eat, visit with each other, and let their children play. With a dazzling patio view of the Mendocino Bay, upbeat world music drifting through the speakers, indoor dining spaces with community and individual tables, toys and books for kids to engage with, all are welcome here. You feel it from the moment you walk in and are greeted by the friendly staff, hear it in the loving and respectful way with which they speak to each other and customers.

On the menu you will find pizzas named for favorite local surf spots, like Big River (pepperoni and mozzarella) and Whiskey Shoals (goat cheese, pine nuts, roasted red peppers, jalapeños). Frankie’s features sixteen flavors from Cowlick’s, keeping the holy trinity for classicists (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) while offering seasonal treats for the more adventurous, like Candy Cap, made with the wild foraged mushrooms indigenous to Mendocino, that taste stunningly of maple. Kulfi, a frozen delight with cardamom and pistachios, sings the song of Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine and is the perfect follow up to their Falafel Platter, which is a romantic nod to S.A. and Ruth’s courtship. In 1994 the two met while visiting Israel and working on community service projects. Together they set out to find the best falafel in the region, nerding out over texture, seasoning, quality of ingredients, and falling in love in the process.

For several years now the block of Ukiah Street where Frankie’s is located has become the de facto town square in Mendocino Village during the town’s two biggest holidays: The Fourth of July and Halloween. During these celebrations, Frankie’s hosts a block party, with other local vendors and artists, where people can convene, dance to music played by local DJs, watch aerial displays by Circus Mecca, have a snack, and be united with friends old and new.

If pizza is the medium, then love is the message. In fact it’s written right there on co-owner S.A. Ephraim’s t-shirt, “I Heart Pizza,” as he tosses dough in the back kitchen; on the back is Frankie’s Motto, “Nourishing Community.”

Says S.A., “I wear this shirt, or one just like it, everyday. It’s true, after all of these years I still love pizza. I love the way it brings people together, the look of relaxation and pleasure on the faces of road weary families when they bite into a slice.” 

Frankie’s, 44951 Ukiah St, Mendocino
(707) 937-2436
Open 11am–8pm Sun, Tue–Thu
Open 11am–9pm Fri & Sat  

Esther Liner is a freelance writer and photographer who splits her time between the Mendocino Coast and the East Bay. She writes about: slow food, fast times, rad art, and the Captains who make it happen. Instagram: greetingsfromnorthwestnowhere. Inquiries:

The Scoop Scoop

More hot spots for cool treats in Mendocino County

Paysanne / Boonville Full of “real sweet things,” Paysanne serves up a delicious selection of Three Twins organic ice cream (made right down the road in Petaluma). Favorite flavors include Dad’s Cardamom, Chocolate Orange, and Lemon Cookie. Also on offer: espresso drinks, fancy confections, and yummy baked goods. 14111 Highway 128 •

Cowlick’s Ice Cream Café / Fort Bragg Scrumptious Mendocino-made artisan ice cream, concocted by hand in small batches using premium ingredients, scooped up at their home base Fort Bragg Café, Frankie’s, J.D. Redhouse, and other locations. 250 N Main St •

Pazzo Marco Creamery / Gualala Luscious made-from-scratch gelato with local milk from what must be some very zen cows. Available both inside Surf Market in the freezer section and outside on select dates from their mobile gelato cart. Did you get that? MOBILE GELATO CART. Like it will come to your house. ‘nuf said.

Steep / Hopland While coffee is their main jam, Steep also scoops up delectable ice creams from Noble Folk in Healdsburg. Maybe combine the two and get an affogato, perfect for a summer day when you want a spark in your step! 13275 Highway 101, Suite 7 • Instagram: @steephopland

La Buena Michoacana / Ukiah Stop by this home-grown Paleterías (popsicle shop) for some fruity fresh delights. Now serving 48 flavors of popsicles and ice cream including pineapple, mango with chili, papaya, watermelon, and cinnamon, the flavor that kicked off the popsicle craze 70 years ago in Mexico. 1252 Airport Rd

J.D. Redhouse / Willits When you’re done browsing the apparel and farm supplies, head over to the old fashioned ice cream parlor to get your fix of Cowlick’s ice cream. A Willits institution. 212 S Main St •