After 50 years, Saukville restaurant has reputation for serving pizza perfection
It is probably impossible to calculate how many thin-crust pizzas have been served at the Riverview Inn over the past 50 years.
Suffice it to say, it has been enough to feed a very hungry army.
The family-run restaurant at 3172 Riverside Dr. in the Town of Saukville is gearing up for a gala 50th anniversary celebration in fall.
“We are planning to use the new back deck and will have a live band. We already put in an order for good weather,” said owner Cindy Wille.
The Riverview is the quintessential family business, founded in 1963 by Art and Darlene Wille.
“Dad had a bar in Milwaukee called Artie’s. Our family lived in Grafton for two years, then we moved to Saukville when they bought this building and opened the restaurant,” Cindy Wille said.
“It was Dad’s idea, and Mom just kind of went along with it. He knew he wanted his own business because he had to be the boss.”
The restaurant originally specialized in steak-and-potatoes fare, but eventually became know for its pizza.
From the beginning, the restaurant blended its own sausage using meats from Prize Steak Products in Milwaukee.
Living quarters were upstairs in the 1940s-era building, making it a given that the family would be intimately involved in running the restaurant.
When Art passed away in 1990, daughter Cindy took over as the owner. Her mom continued to oversee the business until she died in 2002.
Cindy’s role as restaurateur came somewhat reluctantly.
“I probably worked at the restaurant since I was nine and knew it was something I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life,” Wille said.
“Then, after I worked for 19 years at Leeson Electric, the restaurant job didn’t look so bad anymore.”
Her sister Lisa Burich kept her outside job at Super Steel in Milwaukee, but continues to help at the restaurant whenever she can.
Both women got to know the business from the inside out.
“The one thing Dad insisted on was that we all knew how to do every job. Even now, I wait tables, wash dishes, cook in the kitchen and work behind the bar,” Wille said.
Wille said she used to prefer working in the kitchen because she is naturally shy, but her role as restaurant owner has forced her to grow more comfortable being the face of the business.
“I love it now. I would say my favorite thing about being here is the people. The hours can be very long, and living upstairs from the restaurant can be both good and bad, but I don’t really consider it a job,” she said.
Living in the building allows her time to bake the 10 to 15 loaves of bread needed for a week’s worth of garlic bread and grilled sandwich orders.
The family tradition continues at the restaurant, with Wille’s children — Michelle Porterfield, and Eric and Christopher Prom — helping out, as well as Burich’s daughter Jessie Streff.
Before their divorce two years ago, Wille’s husband Joe Leinfelder also worked at the restaurant for 16 years.
Reflecting the family theme, Riverview has adopted the unofficial subtitle “The Next Generation.”
Wille said the family atmosphere extends well beyond the employees.
“It does feel like we are all part of a big family here. We have customers, including neighbors, who have been coming here for decades,” she said.
“It is like our own little Cheers,” Burich added.
The intimacy of the restaurant, which can hold 40 diners if they are packed in tightly, adds to the feeling of closeness.
The Riverview used to do a booming business because it was located on the old Highway 57. When the highway was rerouted to the newly built I-43 in 1976, the restaurant depended on its reputation to draw business.
“We have some very loyal customers. We have even had to ship our pizza to Key West, Fla., because a customer there needed their Riverview fix,” Wille said.
The location along the Milwaukee River makes for a scenic setting, but seasonal flooding can make things interesting.
“Even when Highway W is flooded and blocked off, which happens just about every spring, our customers can usually find a way to get to us. I do remember once when we were kids, the road was flooded at both ends and we were trapped here for three days,” Wille said.
She said the secret to staying in business for five decades is consistency.
“You have to charge fair prices and give people quality food if you want them to come back,” Wille said.
Sandwich baskets and fish fries are popular menu choices, but the Riverview’s signature entree is its pizza.
The most popular of its three crusts is the “homemade,” which the restaurant says is the thinnest possible. Favorite pizzas include the Hawaiian and the Christmas Tree, which features colorful toppings.
This is anything but “fast food.” Because of the from-scratch approach to making the meals, diners are asked to allow 30 minutes for pizzas to be prepared.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays.
Image Information: SAUKVILLE’S RIVERVIEW INN has been a family dining tradition since 1963. Posing in front of the restaurant on Highway W were (from left) Michelle Porterfield and her son Hunter, Lisa Burich and Cindy Wille. Photo by Mark Jaeger