by BETH ALTENA
In a way, buying their own restaurant was like an anniversary present for Debbie and Douglas Ryke. The couple celebrated their fifteenth anniversary the day after they opened the doors of Fatzo’s Pizza. In a way, it was like a whole new marriage.
“The restaurant is our life now,” said Debbie of the couple’s eatery, which is located in the same spot that was formerly J.D.’s Pizza, and prior to that Peppino’s. Debbie said her husband, the “Fatzo” of the restaurant’s name, has been putting in 90 hour weeks to ensure his dream is off to a good start. She also noted that she might go on a diet because she doesn’t like the idea of becoming known as “Mrs. Fatzo.”
Debbie said Douglas always wanted to have a restaurant of his own, and after working in the industry for more than 30 years, opening and running well-known Italian restaurants in West Michigan, he finally decided now was the time.
One week to the day after the Friday, September 7 opening, Debbie said business has been terrific, people have been enthusiastic, and food has been “flying” out the door. Douglas said he always believes food is best when it is all made by hand and his is—with the exception of the ravioli—and all with authentic Italian recipes.
The restaurant features pizzas, including the famous Chicago-style with two layers of dough, cheese and fresh toppings covered with a hand-rolled crust and sauce, and also other Italian favorites—lasagna, mostaccoli, oven-baked subs, breadsticks, salads and a wet burrito which has already become one of the hottest-selling menu items. The menu features more than 45 items.
Douglas said the couple worked hard to prepare for the rebirth of the restaurant as Fatzo’s, where customers can dine in, order delivery or pick up to-go orders. The staff so far is three—the Rykes, and literally the best man they could find for the job, Tom Remington. In addition to offering the same extensive restaurant experience as Douglas, Remington was the couple’s best man at their wedding.
“It was fun last Saturday,” said Debbie. “We were all here working and we were joking with each other, saying, ‘I know where you were 15 years ago.’ “
Douglas has an unusual plan for getting the word out on his restaurant’s food. He plans on letting people eat for free. He invites people to put their name and phone number on the restaurant’s website (www.fatzospizza.com). Douglas said he will randomly pick one person per day to call and invite them and their family to come to the restaurant to enjoy a dinner of pizza and soda for free.
“It’s a way to get our taste out, that’s really what that is,” he explained.
The Rykes had been planning to buy a restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida, but once they were down there Debbie panicked at the thought of living so far from their families. They returned, heard J.D.’s Pizza was for sale and visited Rockford for the first time to take a look.
“We fell in love,” Debbie described. “The shops, the water, the people, this town is so charming. It’s like a picture book. There is something so wholesome about it here.”
Still settling in, the Rykes plan to add a pizza and pasta lunch buffet soon, and may extend their “free” theme to have a free pizza day on Mondays. So far they are getting to know customers and the neighborhood, and count among their new friends the little dog Twizzler who walks by the restaurant every day. Douglas takes a minute to greet the dog and offer him (with Twizzler’s owner’s blessing) a small piece of ham. “Now Twizzler stops at the door every day and barks,” shared Debbie.
Fatzo’s is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and can be reached by phone at (616) 866-2200. The addresss is 346 East Main Street at the intersection of Northland Drive and East Main Street.
“I am amazed we’ve only been open a week, it feels like a month,” said Debbie. “I keep thinking, a month ago this was just a dream. Now it’s ours. I just smile.”