MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is a five-year success story that almost was stopped short. Pizzeria Pezzo in White Bear Lake makes incredible deep dish and coal-fired pizzas, as well as fantastic pastas and small plates. But the burning hot fires inside the restaurant's two ovens are not what truly fuels this restaurant.
"This was my husband's passion," said Keri Bougie, about her husband and acclaimed chef, Gary.
They dreamed of running their own restaurant. The family behind the Kowalski's grocery stores heard about Gary's pizza while he was working in Chicago, and recruited him to come to White Bear Lake, in 2014.
"When the Kowalski's come for you, you know you're doing something right," said Keri Bougie.
Keri, Gary, and the couple's three young children (all under age 3) moved to White Bear Lake and opened Pizzeria Pezzo in 2014. Six months later, Gary went to the hospital for a routine gallbladder surgery and at just 35 years old, Chef Gary suddenly died.
"Life is unexpected. You never know where it's going to take you," said Keri, who said the thought of abandoning the newly-opened restaurant crossed her mind. "I think of course, you always do. Especially when something extremely traumatic. In the end, no. It wasn't an option for me."
For five years now, people in and around White Bear Lake have proven her right. Pezzo is a tremendous success because of the family feel and that incredible pizza. The thinner crust pizzas get kissed by fire, the No. 5 with home-made sausage, the No. 13 with figs and gorgonzola.
But it's the deep dish that's the show-stopper. Baked for 45 minutes to rich, cheesy, perfection.
"I think the old boss would be smiling for sure," said the current chef Mac Morrison.
He was with the restaurant from day one, and looks at a picture of his mentor, Chef Gary, every day.
The fire at the restaurant does make Pezzo far more than just a pizza and pasta joint. They hit the hand-rolled meatballs with it, the lemon basil Chicken Wings.
"We marinate them for two days, then slow roast them off," said Morrison. "Everything here is from scratch, and you can taste the difference."
On a recent Friday night, Pezzo was hopping, filled with families out for dinner, couples on a date night, full of love, exactly as Gary Bougie would have hoped.
"His passion was food, and family and getting people together and creating memories, through this it's achieved, it's accomplished. What more could you ask for?" said Bougie.
The goal is to open more outposts of Pizzeria Pezzo, and maybe start selling some of their sauces or salad dressings in retailers.
Today, Gary and Keri's kids are 5, 6 and 8-years-old.
"And my kids have this as part of his legacy. They get to come here and see what their dad built, and what their mom continues to grow," she said.
Pizzeria Pezzo, 2143 4th Street, White Bear Lake
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-10pm, Sunday 4pm-9pm
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