July 1, 2017 – West Bend, WI – One of the most popular posts at WashingtonCountyInsider.com is about Dick’s Pizza. I dove into my archives and found a story from Around the Bend about Dick’s Pizza closing – dated July 24, 2008.
After 50 years as an institution in West Bend’s independent-restaurant community Dick’s Pizza has closed. Employees were told early Thursday (July 24) that this would be their last night.
“It’s just gotten to the point where it’s not worth it,” said owner Earl Richter who puts in 80 hours of work a week. “I’m ready to get out.”
Richter has owned the Italian restaurant at the corner of 18th Avenue and Highway 33 the last five years although Dick’s Pizza has a long history in the community.
“When I was little we used to go there very late and I would always order the spaghetti and fall asleep and I told my parents it was the spaghetti that would make me fall asleep,” said Jodi Janisse who also remembered the 25-cent sundaes.
“That was our promotion for our 25th anniversary,” said former owner Dave Wolf who remembered they had a very family-oriented business. “We supported a lot of teams like the water ski team and a lot of little league teams,” said Wolf who ran the restaurant for 20 years.
Bill Laufer grew up on Seventh Avenue and said it was always a big treat Sunday nights to go down to Dick’s and get a pizza. “They were originally located downtown and then they moved to the far side of town,” he said laughing. “Back in the day people were like, why are they moving way out there.”
The original Dick’s Pizza dates to the 1950s when Dick Turnquist opened on north Main Street near where Tastings Food & Spirit’s is located.
“In 1977 Turnquist started building the new restaurant on 18th Avenue but he was killed in a car crash three weeks before even opening,” said Richter about the crash on Paradise Drive when Turnquist swerved to avoid hitting a dog.
An employee at the restaurant, Paul Schloemer became the new owner and ran the business for three years before Dave Wolf bought the pizza place in March 1980. Twenty-one years later in December 2001 Richter bought the business.
“We really grew the sales within the first three or four years,” said Richter. “My sales were probably fifty percent higher than anything they’d ever done but all of a sudden one restaurant after another started opening in this town,” he said claiming there are just too many eating places for West Bend to support.
Richter rattled off a list of local restaurants that have recently met their demise including Ponderosa, Charcoal Grill, 50 States, Schultz’s Whitetail Inn, Lisa’s Café, Linden Inn, and there have been places bought and sold including the Mousetrap, formerly Blue Herron on the east end of Highway 33, Bagg End changed hands as did Long Branch Saloon and downtown The Grille closed where Café Soeurette opened. “West Bend has way too many restaurants,” said Richter who qualified the transition period as abnormal. “I’ve never seen a town with this many restaurants versus the population.”
SEVERAL FACTORS HURT BUSINESS…
Several factors led to Richter’s decision to close including gas prices, the economy, and additional competition. “It kicked you a little bit but it wasn’t anything you couldn’t survive, we just weren’t as profitable,” said Richter noting there have been 24 new restaurants opened in West Bend the last few years.
Aside from more choices for the community, Richter said the increase in the price of gas hurt him. “We were flat with profits last year, but when gas hit $4 a gallon our business dropped 20% just like that,” he said also blaming the rumor about a Walgreen buying up his corner at 18th Avenue.
“That hurt me with all the talk and all the rumors and it destroyed my gift certificate sales last year especially during Christmas.” Richter confirmed the national drug store chain was looking at buying and building on the northeast corner however he claimed there was never an offer on the table.
In January however, First Weber Real Estate agent Bink Steinbach said a Chicago developer actually pulled their offer claiming the redevelopment of the site “was getting too expensive.” Steinbach, the former owner of the Binkery was one of three properties along with Dick’s Pizza that would have been sold for the development.
Richter made it clear, he was simply closing the restaurant. “I’m not going bankrupt or anything. I thought about selling but there’s not a lot of interest right now.” Richter and a partner own the building which will be for sale shortly. An auction is set for early August.
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As we look for memories for Dick’s Pizza we’ll kick start the process by sharing some past posts from You Know You Are From West Bend – a page run by administrator Terry Becker on Facebook.