A New Look for a Pizza Legend

Schultz, Deanne. The Sheboygan Press. October 24, 2010, page D1 and October 27, 2010, page D1.

After almost 15 years, Alicia Reichgeld should know Faye's Pizza like the back of her hand.

Reichgeld, who owns the business with her husband, Bryan Evans, started out living in an apartment above the restaurant, parking in the adjacent lot, which gave her many opportunities to notice all of the building's details.

And what did she think?

"Ugh," she said. "This is an ugly building."

Although the restaurant has been a Sheboygan mainstay for 53 years, the couple was noticing that people didn't give Faye's the same attention anymore - certainly they faced competition from other pizza restaurants, but they knew Faye's was in a great location, traffic buzzing by all day long.

Reichgeld, 38, decided it was time to do something, and thought new signs would add color and dimension to the building.

"We went to talk to someone about signs and they said, 'Do you know you need a permit?'" she said. "I didn't."

At that point, she turned things over to her husband, who learned that not only were grants available for signs, but also for historic renovations.

"I had become aware of (historical renovations) when I saw the pamphlet in the hall for the Riverfront District," Evans said.

According to Jennifer Lehrke, senior architect and historical preservation consultant in Sheboygan, "The City of Sheboygan's Historic Preservation Grant Program may pay 100 percent of the cost of preliminary architectural and historical research work and will provide a grant for 25 percent of the cost of facade restoration, including professional fees."

"It started out just getting a sign and here we are, talking about a historic renovation," Reichgeld said. "I said, 'Well, hold on now.'"

No stranger to the demands of renovation Reichgeld felt her heels digging in - the couple also owns an older home, and between maintenance there and at the restaurant, she didn't relish the thought of tackling such a large project.

They decided that getting plans drawn up might be a good start - after all, they didn't have to do anything with them immediately, saving them for a later day, so they went to Lehrke with a list of concerns.

Chief on Reichgeld's list was fixing the "hodgepodge" of design flaws left by previous owners who had blocked in windows, tuck-pointed the bricks with mismatched mortar, painted in different colors and generally left the exterior a mess.

Inside, an earlier remodeling project made for cramped pizza-making space in the kitchen. According to Reichgeld, "You could roll it, make it, bake it, serve it, and basically not move."

There was also a safety issue - the parapet walls along the north and south edges of the building were collapsing, and needed to be removed.

"You could literally pull the bricks out with your bare hands," Lehrke said.

After sending an open invitation for contractors to submit bids, Lehrke turned the results over to Reichgeld and Evans.

"There was a lot of apprehension," Reichgeld said. "I'm not rich - I bought on a land contract when I was 23 or 24 and all the money I ever had went to pay off my mortgage."

Evans, 33, shared his wife's thoughts.

"I knew it was going to be a big change for us," he said, "and my main concern was whether we could afford it, even with the grants we could be eligible for."

After considering her budget and analyzing future plans - a process that took a couple months - Reichgeld decided to "shake the dice and go for it."

They realized they could do much of the interior work themselves, leaving the crew at Mike Koenig Construction of Sheboygan to handle the exterior.

Pete Schmoll, project manager at Mike Koenig Construction, said one of the main challenges lay in the brickwork. After removing the unstable bricks of the parapet walls, workers salvaged what they could, saving those bricks for patching around windows.

"This was a challenge because of the finite amount of material," Schmoll said. "We had to be a little creative with the soldier courses around the windows, but it turned out pretty nice."

They faced a second challenge with matching the mortar - Schmoll said age and weathering changed the original color of the mortar, which meant they needed to create a custom color.

"It took several attempts and a couple of mock-up panels to get it right," he said.

Patience was the order of the day, both for the owners and the crew at Mike Koenig Construction, who never knew what they might uncover on the old building.

"Everyone needs to adjust and make changes on the fly in order to keep the project moving and on the right track," Schmoll said.

Reichgeld and Evans did their own share of adjusting, staying open throughout the entire construction project.

"The dining room needed to be cleaned ceiling to floor every day the windows were being installed," said Evans. "All of the booths had to be moved back and forth every day. It was extra work on top of what we already do every day."

Slowly but surely, the couple's "concern list" was taken care of under Lehrke's carefully thought out plans. She had taken the building's entire appearance into consideration, achieving design goals of "making the building stand out, be more historically appropriate, and adding some overall curb appeal."

That last detail was critical - for years, Reichgeld and Evans had noticed the building's presence fading in customers' minds as other pizza restaurants opened up.

Lehrke created larger storefront windows to draw people in, added colorful fabric awnings over each door, and installed a series of gooseneck lights along the south side to brighten things up.

Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes came on the north side of the building. Previously, Reichgeld and Evans saw "little interest" in the outdoor dining patio there. Hidden behind a wooden fence, the area seemed largely forgotten; Lehrke bordered the patio with an ornamental steel fence set back along the sidewalk to give the building additional attention. The "Faye's Pizza" sign was reconditioned and moved to a prominent spot high on the side of the building, and the results are open and welcoming.

And nowadays, when Reichgeld parks her car and walks into the building, she's thrilled.

"I'm so happy. It all comes together," she said. "It looks great."

Evans, too, is happy with the way the project turned out.

"Now that it's done, I'm very happy with the look of Faye's," he said. "I think our building stands out more than it ever has and draws attention that we had not received before.".