By Judy Steffes Special to Published Jul 25, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Dick's Pizza and Grill, an institution in West Bend's independent restaurant community, has closed.

"It's just gotten to the point where it's not worth it; I'm ready to get out," says owner Earl Richter, who told his 30 employees Thursday afternoon and closed his doors that night.

Richter has owned the Italian restaurant at the corner of 18th Avenue and Highway 33 for the last seven 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. I told my parents it was the spaghetti that would make me sleepy," says Jodi Janisse who also remembers the 25-cent sundaes.

"That was our promotion for our 25th anniversary," says former owner Dave Wolf. "We supported a lot of teams like the water ski team and little league teams."

Bill Laufer grew up on 7th Avenue and said it was always a big treat on 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 says. "Back in the day people were like, why are they moving way out there?"

The original Dick's Pizza dates to back 1958 when Dick Turnquist opened at 315 N. Main St., where Tastings Food & Spirit's is currently located. "In 1977 Turnquist started building the new restaurant here on 18th Avenue but he was killed in a car crash three weeks before even opening," says Richter.

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 years later, in December 2003, Richter took over.

"We really grew the sales within the first three or four years," says Richter. "My sales were probably 50 percent higher than anything they'd ever done but all of a sudden one restaurant after another started opening in this town," he says, 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 and Linden Inn. Places bought and sold include the Mousetrap, formerly Blue Herron on the east end of Highway 33, Bagg End, Long Branch Saloon and The Grille.

"West Bend has way too many restaurants," says Richter. "I've never seen a town with this many restaurants versus the population."

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," he says, noting there have been 24 new restaurants opened in West Bend the last few years.

Aside from more choices, Richter says the increase in gas prices hurt him.

"We were flat with profits last year, but when gas hit $4 a gallon our business dropped 20 percent just like that," he says. He also blames 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 but claims there was never an offer on the table.

In January First Weber Real Estate agent Bink Steinbach said a Chicago developer 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 makes it clear he is 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.

Judy Steffes Special to

Judy is a Milwaukee native who is ever exploring the country. Her favorite mode of travel is her 21-speed, blue Centurion bicycle, which she bought after high school. Judy has worked in the local media for the past 20 years. "I need to do something to support my biking habit."

Judy has an extensive history in radio news, having worked at WISN, WUWM, WTMJ, WKTY in La Crosse and WBKV in West Bend. A strong interest in sports also had Judy reporting for ESPN Radio covering the Packers, Buck, Brewers and Badgers. "One of my first Brewer games at County Stadium the security guy yelled as I walked into the locker room ‘LADY IN THE LOCKER ROOM.’ Now it’s so commonplace. But that story makes me sound really old."

Judy is currently working at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. She is a freelance writer and her pieces have been seen in The Small Business Times and The Business Journal. Her travel journal has appeared in Minnesota Trails Magazine, The Statesman and the West Bend Daily News, to name a few.

Aside from biking, running and being active in her community, Judy is known as someone who is "very, very thrifty." "I get candles for Christmas. My friends call them my space heaters because I normally keep the heat in my house at 40 degrees during the winter. It’s not that I can’t afford to turn up the thermostat, I just hate paying for heat."

Judy said her "conservative attitude" plays a part in her bike tours ... not needing to pay for gas and frequently spending nights camping inside churches. "First of all, it makes me feel safe since I’m traveling alone and second all you’re doing is sleeping, so why pay for that. It’s no wonder I can’t ever get someone to travel with me."

Judy grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from Dominican High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Judy is the second oldest among seven siblings and spends a lot of her time working as a "park tester" along with her eight nieces and nephews.