A vintage recipe unearthed from an old toolbox meets a brand-new larger-than-life mascot in this quaint Wisconsin pizzeria and tavern.
Arthur Wille’s wife, Darlene, wasn’t initially sold on the abandoned building the couple spotted in Saukville, Wisconsin, in the early ’60s. Once a tavern somewhat disguised as a residential home, it had been sitting vacant for years—busted plumbing and all. But Arthur, a former Milwaukee bar owner, was ready for the challenge and opened Riverview Inn in 1963. “My mom thought he was crazy,” says Lisa Burich, the couple’s daughter and current owner.
Arthur, of German heritage but with a passion for pizza, wanted to make his homemade thin-crust pies the house specialty. They were so successful, in fact, the owners later decided to purchase premade crusts instead to keep up with demand. After the couple’s 35 years of ownership, Lisa and her sister, Cindy, took the reins, but Lisa soon moved on, leaving Cindy and her husband, Joe, in charge for the next 20 years. But after Arthur passed away, a key discovery changed the crusts’ course: The daughters found his original pizza recipe in an old toolbox and returned it to the menu, alongside medium- and thick-crust options.
In 2016, Lisa returned to take over the business, now with help from her daughter, Jessie. Though the cozy restaurant sports just 10 barstools and six tables, Lisa has since nearly doubled pizza sales, thanks to popular pies like the Christmas Tree, washed down with a hand-muddled old-fashioned at the bar (or the new outdoor-deck tiki bar). The pizzeria also offers frozen pies for those on the go and a punch-card system to reward loyal customers. Meanwhile, involvement with the local chamber of commerce, fundraisers for causes like breast cancer and dog rescues, and donations to local nursing homes and hospitals help engage the pizzeria with its small-town community.
Last March, Riverview Inn initiated delivery and brought in a quirky “spokesperson,” Uncle Crusty—employee Tyler Davenport, in an oversize, inflatable chef’s costume with a flair for the dramatic. Lisa says he’s truly taken off as he appears in fun video skits, posted on social media, to promote specials and new menu items like the Uncle Crusty, which sandwiches a 10-ounce Italian sausage patty between two 8” cheese pizzas.
Innovation aside, Lisa believes that old-fashioned approaches have also helped cement Riverview Inn’s legacy. “My mom always made homemade bread, and we still make it today to serve with every dinner,” she says. “Every day, we’re rolling crust, grating cheese, cutting vegetables to maintain our quality. We’ve had employees for 20-plus years. And I’m there every single day, talking to customers. You have to really embrace your customers and get to know them.”