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After 70-plus years, rustic shipwreck decor, sled-pan pizzas and vintage high-school portraits still charm this pizzeria’s original patrons, who now visit with their grandkids in tow.

portsandybay-menBack in 1947, the small town of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, seemed an unlikely place for a pizzeria—but the concept didn’t start as a pie-slinging powerhouse. The brainchild of several friends (including a state senator) opened as a high school hangout, serving fish dinners and nickel beers. A husband and wife from New Jersey, known locally as Ma and Pa Wiener, later bought the business, introducing their pizza recipe to befuddled locals in the mid-’50s. “This was the first place people could enjoy a slice of pizza in Two Rivers,” says Travis Kadow, co-owner of Port Sandy Bay. “It was a cheap meal, so even though it was very different for this area, people took to it.”

Located just off the shore of Lake Michigan, the pizzeria snatched some unique decor (and its name) from washed-up debris: Its exterior sign is an old wooden rudder from a ship, and portholes have been installed into some of the doors. Meanwhile, its 20” Sno-Coaster Pizza, created when a local aluminum company approached Pa with its new metal sleds for hill riding, remains an irresistible novelty item.

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The Wieners’ daughter later took over the business, after which Al and Judi Geimer assumed the reins for five years, changing the vibe from beer bar to family restaurant. But in 1993, Ruth and Richard Kadow transformed the pizzeria from struggling to surging, thanks to some brave changes: The kitchen was refashioned into a game room, a brand-new kitchen and equipment revved up production, interiors received remodeling, and a parking lot replaced gravel. Richard also introduced a frozen line, now with a presence in three counties and churning out 1,500 pizzas every other week. In a small town that’s packed mainly in summer with visitors from adjacent campgrounds and state parks, that leap of faith diversified the business and made it a year-round moneymaker.

Eventually, two dedicated employees also bought into the business: Marshall Fanslau dreams up top-selling new specialty pies, and Erik Groll, a former supermarket manager, significantly expanded the frozen operation. Meanwhile, the game room with ticket redemption, a charm-laden rustic setting, Friday fish frys and frequent give-back efforts keep the place buzzing with happy families—all in a town of about 10,000. “It’s all about investing in your business, making people happy and serving a good product,” Travis concludes. “You’ve got to be a people person, know your customers and be able to talk to them. Sometimes giving a little is the best advertising.”

—By Tracy Morin

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