Currently has a talk show in Toronto and Has A Movie released in 2013 called real gangsters
Article Dated 2007 -
Frank D'Angelo is perched at the bar of "one of the most spectacular restaurants known to mankind." If there is a surprise in this assertion, it is D'Angelo's qualifier that his King St. W. supper club with the Sopranoesque name – Forget About It! – is merely "one of" the most fabulous restaurants ever. For Frank D'Angelo is a man who lives and breathes fabulosity, in which all that he touches, from Wacked, his "pure botanical energy" drinks, to his catalogue of Steelback beers, is meant to be the greatest, the biggest, the best. In this way,
Frank D'Angelo is the consummate promoter, the seemingly unavoidable face of the brand, which makes it all the more curious to consider his announcement of last Thursday. No longer is Frank D'Angelo the chief executive of Steelback, the come-from-nowhere beer company that claims ad space on Hockey Night in Canada, and D'Angelo Brands, the company on which D'Angelo made his name, if not his fortune. He is sleek, D'Angelo is. For someone 48 years of age, his skin has the look of satin, as if it's very well cared for. He is 178 pounds (he offers this information), runs with ankle weights and plays hockey multiple times a week. He is manicured and sports a diamond pinkie ring, a designer suit and Gucci loafers. He is drinking a Brunello – his lunch-time habit. (He favours Amarone for dinner.)
He's nibbling on great chunks of parmesan cheese, and talking about growing up on Silverthorn Ave. in the city's west end, the son of Sicilian immigrants who arrived in Toronto in 1956. It could be a rags to riches tale. Except we're not quite sure about the riches part. HERE'S A SNAPSHOT. Frank D'Angelo is 11 or thereabouts, and he's standing outside the Boston Bruins dressing room, hoping for an autograph. So Phil Esposito comes out and sees this kid, "freezing his butt off," recalls Esposito. So the captain takes him in to the dressing room and Bobby Orr signs and Derek Sanderson signs. One of those stories that a boy would find himself telling forever.
Years pass and Frankie launches D'Angelo Brands, with beginnings in apple juice and growing to an eventual menu of tinned produce, from beans to tomatoes, and later beer, and Esposito decides that he likes Frankie and he likes the beer. So a commercial is conceived, featuring Bobby Hull and the Esposito brothers and, of course, Frankie in his goalie gear. "He isn't a bad goalie at all," says Phil Esposito. "Of course we like to bust his balls a little bit. . . . I try to shoot at his crotch . . . try to get him peeing." Next weekend Esposito will travel to Toronto from his home in Tampa Bay, Fla. He will attend a dinner for winners of the latest Steelback contest. Esposito continues to be a spokesperson for the company. "I really like the beer, I really like Frank. We've become really good friends. To tell you the truth, the guy's okay." THE ASCENDANCY OF ANY entrepreneur can mostly be visualized in filmic frames.
Of course, the more interesting material lies in the outtakes. By the end of 2001, he had built D'Angelo Brands into a modestly sized company. Marketing, distribution and administrative expenses outpaced revenues by roughly six times, keeping the company in the red. In the fall of that year, the company executed a reverse takeover of a penny stock outfit, giving D'Angelo Brands an immediate listing on the Nasdaq and access to the penny stock capital markets. U.S. securities filings show slightly less than 10 per cent of the company's shares were owned by three offshore companies based in Nassau, each with the same principal shareholder who would later come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for what the commission alleged was a "massive broker bribery scheme." "That was a bad time in our lives, a very bad time in our lives," says D'Angelo. He says he did not know the individual who came under investigation. "I don't know who any of those people are. Those companies had nothing to do with us. We bought a shell company . . . they owned that shell company." D'Angelo says he was misled. "We were to buy a clean shell company ... and then we found out that the shell was not as clean as it. . . ." Here D'Angelo's voice drifts off. "I personally was very naïve," he continues. "We got some good lawyers and we saved our behinds in time. . . . We almost burned ourselves." D'Angelo returned the company to its private roots.
In the absence of corporate filings compelled by securities regulation, the financial performance of the company becomes intriguingly opaque. "I WENT ON THE ROAD in '78 with my own band, all over Canada, the United States," says D'Angelo of his days as a singer, days that, as many readers will be aware, he has not entirely left behind. From Taste of the Danforth to the Toronto beer fest to singing for the troops in Petawawa and Meaford,
Frank D'Angelo and the Steelback 2-4 band is something to behold, if not love. There had been a time when singing was Frank D'Angelo's career. "It was a very tough life, living with 14 people, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We had a bus that was like a money pit. It would break down constantly. We used to go to restaurants and order hot water and put ketchup in it, put crackers in it. I got down to 155 pounds." As a kid he listened to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Temptations. "The best music known to mankind." There's a photograph of Sinatra by the kitchen at the dinner club and numerous photos of D'Angelo with rock stars. "My idol is Gino Vannelli," he says. "I opened up for him." The on-the-road life wore thin. "I had an epiphany in Edmonton at a club called Lucifer's.
There was a band playing there that had been on the road for 26 years." Frank went to work for his father. In Italy Giuseppe D'Angelo owned a furniture store. In Canada he eventually came to own Napoli Foods. "I went to work for him.... I cut my hair, got rid of my earring," says the son of the father. A year later, Napoli was sold. "I was a little upset with him." What followed was the mythic moment in which Al Palladini gave D'Angelo that truck and he started hauling apple juice door to door. Mike Cicere met the apple juice guy more than two decades ago, in the early days of D'Angelo taking his products to the airwaves, initially through small, multicultural stations and then to CityTV and eventually going national. There was never any question that D'Angelo himself would be the front man.
"The camera likes him. I think people like him on camera as well. Ever since then he's been on camera," says Cicere, whose Foxx communications handles D'Angelo's PR. Cicere says it was D'Angelo's idea to tap disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson to promote Cheetah, one of a long line of power drinks that the company has come up with. Who can forget. D'Angelo: "Did you Cheetah my son?" A grinning Johnson: "Absolutely. I Cheetah all the time." A "stroke of genius," says Cicere of the cringe-inducing commercial. "Even though how bad it was, it still created awareness of the brand overnight." "The drink is great," says Johnson, taking a call during a coaching session at York University. Johnson's involvement with the product has since ceased – the contract ran for one year. But he says the two have remained friends. " Our relationship was good. We had great laughs. We come across some very good people, raise money for breast cancer and stuff like that." D'Angelo says Cheetah has done millions in sales and that the brand is still growing. Well, there must be fault lines somewhere. THE ANNALS OF BUSINESS are packed with mentors and guarantors and long-lived business types who decide for myriad reasons to backstop the dreams of entrepreneurs.
Surely one of the more curious pairings has been that of Barry Sherman, founder of generic drug manufacturer Apotex Inc., and Frank D'Angelo. How, one wonders, did Sherman come to be Frank's sugar daddy? "I'm gonna tell you the story," says D'Angelo. Up near Tiverton, on the Bruce Peninsula, D'Angelo says he lusted after a "state-of-the-art" plant, owned by Sherman. It had this "aura" about it, he says. It was "magnificent." D'Angelo is unclear on what the plant had been used for, though he does offer a hard-to-follow story about an herbal supplement that was being manufactured for livestock, "especially pigs." Something to do with getting the pigs to produce less gas. Anyway, "I heard just in passing that the plant was going to be sold, piece by piece ... I thought that would be a horrible thing to do to a plant like that, so I went to speak to Mr. Sherman." The plant additionally hosted a "state-of-the-art" brewery. "So I figured if I took that plant, and I sell the brewery, that would subsidize the purchase of the plant," D'Angelo explains. "That was my whole genius plan.
That was my Wile E. Coyote plan. The boy-am-I-impressed-with-you-Frank plan." Two things happened. A: D'Angelo's notion of trucking Ontario apples and New York State apples and apples from northern Michigan all the way to Tiverton proved – let's not register too much surprise here – less than economically wise. " It had huge logistical challenges so we stopped.... It was not a good business decision." B: the unsold brewery presented a fresh and alluring idea. Why not become a beer baron? "One day I walked into the boardroom. I sat everybody down and said I want to go into the beer business, and they wanted to call, what is it? 99 Queen Street?" This plan was much wiser, D'Angelo argues, as the ingredient haulage on the way to Tiverton is far less problematic. Still, he then has to haul the beer out. As one micro brewer who has watched the development of Steelback phrases it, "He's in the middle of scratch-my-ass nowhere in a brewery that takes three to four hours to ship to the 401."
Sherman took on the role of financier while D'Angelo took on the burden of $100 million in debt, against which he pledged corporate assets, including the company's facility in Brampton and his Forest Hill home, to various Sherman companies. "I put all my eggs into it," says D'Angelo. "I put everything I had into this." The marketing side of the business came naturally, making Steelback the official beer of the Toronto Argonauts and the official beer of the Jordan Formula 1 racing team. In August, Steelback announced a corporate partnership with the men's national basketball team, which sported the Wacked energy drink logo on their uniforms at the Olympic qualifier this past summer. "Frank's an ideas guy," says head coach Leo Rautins. "A lot of people don't follow through with them. Frank gets an idea and the next thing you know, he's running with it." D'Angelo says his marketing budget on the beer side alone this year will come to $15 million on a business that has yet to show a profit. Two weeks ago the company purchased another plant in Quebec. D'Angelo won't name the price. "We're at the investment stage," he says of the beer agenda. "I believe that it's a viable business. I believe that it's a business that really needs a lot of nurturing." Did Barry Sherman's patience grow thin? D'Angelo says that's not the case. And Sherman's not talking. On Thursday, Barry Sherman's 24-year-old son, Jonathon, was named chief executive officer. "I'm staying on as chairman," says D'Angelo. "I'm staying on as the watchful eye." PROMOTERS PROTOTYPICALLY share certain characteristics. They tend to have a bustle of people all around, but be able to point to few true friends.
Their personal lives are often a shambles. They don't sleep much. "If I sleep two hours, three hours a night, it's a miracle," says D'Angelo. He has three children from two failed marriages. He lives with a 200-pound Neapolitan mastiff named Blue. He drinks moderately and smokes when anxious. What's he going to do with himself now? "I suck at golf, but I do look spectacular on the golf course," he says. Seriously, he intends to remain intimately involved with the D'Angelo/Steelback enterprises, though he has no control over that now. He'll be hanging out with Esposito on the weekend. So there's that. He lights a cigarette. "
I'm writing an album. It's almost finished. I've got huge ideas for new products. If I were to leave this planet today or tomorrow – because there are no guarantees. When that boarding pass arrives. It is what it is." On that note, we take our leave. " The only person who knows me really, really well is myself," says D'Angelo. And you believe him.
Jennifer Wells is a Star business columnist.