Frank “Sonny” Serafini Sr., a self-made entrepreneur and a longtime resident of Wakefield, passed away at his home on May 18 due to complications from surgery. He was 81.
His son, Frank Serafini Jr., of Westford, described Sonny as a businessman who had a warm-hearted soul and helped a lot of people.
“He was very outgoing, very friendly, big heart, very big heart, he helped many many people,” Serafini said. “You just had to listen to his stories, and he had dozens.”
One particular story that Sonny liked to tell dated back to his days in the music industry, when he supposedly helped Tina Turner acquire the rights to “Proud Mary” from Creedance Clearwater Revival.
“He supposedly got Tina Turner to sing ‘Proud Mary’ the rights from Creedance Clearwater, because Creedance Clearwater is one of the concerts he put on,” Serafini Jr. said. “Supposedly he intervened, they weren’t going to let her sing it, and then the rest was history on that.”
Then the owner of a record store in Tewksbury, Sonny helped put on dozens of concerts, featuring big names like Creedance Clearwater Revival, the James Gang and Rita Coolidge, among others.
But music was only one of Sonny’s many professional endeavors. Over the years, Sonny worked at the Schrafft’s Candy Factory in Charlestown, owned a restaurant in Kansas, started a successful floor business in Tewksbury, and most recently founded Jokers Wild in North Reading and Danvers.
“My Dad was a businessman,” Serafini Jr. said. “He was an entrepreneur and he started several businesses, and he owned them until he moved on to something else.”
During his first business endeavor, as the owner of Townhouse Pizza in Harper, Kansas, Sonny helped influence the start of one of the country’s biggest pizza chains.
“The owners of Pizza Hut came up to him and learned how to make pizza from him in 1962,” Serafini Jr. said. “Frank and Dan, the two brothers, they had a store in Wichita called Pizza Hut, they were making pizza like Midwesterners and when he started Townhouse Pizza, they came up one day and said they’d work for free if he’d teach them how to make pizza.”
Apparently, Pizza Hut had been around for a couple years already, but wasn’t putting out a great product and was mostly surviving out of its original location. Sonny supposedly helped teach the brothers how to make pizza “the real way” and soon after the chain took off.
“Of course we didn’t learn this until later because we’d left Kansas, that their store had taken off and that they were the owners of the franchise,” Serafini Jr. said.
Despite his brief stint in Kansas, Sonny was a Wakefielder through and through. He was born in Wakefield on Dec. 18, 1929, grew up on Brook Ave., went to Wakefield High School and lived in town until his death when he wasn’t working or traveling.
Besides business, Sonny had many other interests. He enjoyed model trains and antique cars, and owned his own 1966 Mustang that he completely restored himself. He was also a big sports fan, and loved the Red Sox.
“He was a big Red Sox fan,” Serafini Jr. said. “He wouldn’t let me watch the Bruins three weeks ago when I was at his house with him, you had to have the Red Sox on. We were in a rain delay and we had to watch the rain delay, rather than let me turn on the Bruins.”
Sonny is survived by his wife, Wilma (McCoy) Serafini of No. Reading, his former wife Falma (Jeffrey) Serafini of Westford, his son Frank Jr and his wife Mary of Westford, John R. Serafini of Revere, Wanda C. Hines and Walkter S. Serafini of Woburn, Jeffrey R. Serafini and his wife Dawn of Lowell and the late Thomas C. Serafini. He is also survived by his 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Sonny’s funeral was held on May 21 at the in Wakefield, a funeral mass was said at in Wakefield. He was buried in the in Wakefield.