COMMUNITY FIXTURE

Mikey’s Pizzeria of Whittemore, owned by Mike and Shauna Arndt, has become a staple in the community. The family-run establishment has filtered some of its proceeds back into the area, through donations to the local school district, fundraisers, benefit dinners and other functions.

WHITTEMORE – Mikey’s Pizzeria in Whittemore is a shining example of what it means to be a family-run business whose staff take pride in the community they serve.

Spouses Mike and Shauna Arndt, owners of the establishment, each grew up in Whittemore and established their roots when they became high school sweethearts while attending Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools (WPAS).

Since then, the couple raised two children, Mikey and Sarah, each of whom also attended WPAS and are now enrolled at Delta College.

The Arndts lived in Whittemore for many years before spending some time in the Tawas area, and they have resided in West Branch for almost a year now.

They opened Mikey’s Pizzeria in the spring of 2010, from the building formerly occupied by Damron’s Pizzeria.

Patrons get a true family feel when they enter the restaurant, as the staff consists solely of Mike, Shauna and their children, as well as the Arndt’s nieces and nephews and Shauna’s mother, who step in to help whenever needed.

“It’s always been a family business,” said Mike, who first began mulling the idea of owning a restaurant when he helped run a pizzeria while in college. The owner expanded from one location to five, in a matter of two years, and Mike realized this line of work could be a profitable venture.

Prior to this, he worked in sales for about 13 years, saying it was a job that didn’t result in a lot of ‘thank yous’ from customers.

The experience at the pizzeria, though, couldn’t be more different. Mike shared how nice it is when patrons compliment the food, tell staff they’re doing a great job and express gratitude for the service.

“We are five-star across the board, which is a beautiful thing,” said Mike, of the reviews the business has received on their Facebook page, Trip Advisor and Google Maps.

He added that a man came to the business just the other day, simply because he typed nearby pizza places into his GPS and noticed that Mikey’s had five stars.

The love that dedicated customers have for the establishment is reciprocated by the Arndts, with Mike saying his favorite part about having lived in Iosco County is the people. “The people are very nice. To me, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

From the diners who stop in, to those who run neighboring businesses, Mike said if he has ever needed a hand, the people in the community are always willing to help. “You know everybody, they know you and I like that. That’s just the way it is in a small community.”

In fact, Mike said he can’t even shovel snow from the pizzeria in the winter without a neighbor popping over to offer assistance.

The Arndt’s admiration for the community is matched only by their love for their business, in which they take much pride.

Mikey’s Pizzeria features hand tossed, brick oven baked pizza, which Mike said has been key to keeping customers coming back.

Many other establishments use conveyor ovens and can produce pizzas in several minutes, but it’s just not the same as enjoying a pizza with handmade dough, baked in a brick oven. While this process takes a bit longer, Mike stressed that it is worth the wait and is what sets Mikey’s apart from other businesses.

He said there is a real process to using a brick oven, which is difficult to work with, and those preparing the food have to know what they’re doing – but the effort is well worth the end result.

The pizzeria also offers subs, salads and a selection of deep-fried items, but patrons won’t find much else beyond this, and the Arndts think that is a good thing.

Rather than having a mediocre menu with a vast selection, the owners prefer to focus their attention on several main items, to produce the best dishes they can.

“I like to keep it simple. I don’t want to have a lot of items,” Mike explained.

“And we’re very good at it. If you want a pizza – if you want a really, really good brick oven baked pizza – we have it,” he continued, adding that he and his family have worked for so long on the products they offer, that they have the preparation down pat.

“I focus on this and I’ve got it mastered; my kids have it mastered, my wife has it mastered. We do it right,” Mike assured.

He noted that pizza, obviously,  is the most popular choice with diners and, while the BBQ chicken and meat lovers options are big sellers, there really isn’t one which stands out more than the others. Patrons enjoy a variety of pizzas, and Mikey’s is also known for its cinnamon sticks and garlic sticks, which many have deemed the best in the state. “People just rave about it.”

Additionally, diners pay a fair price for generous portions, with Mikey’s large pizzas measuring 16 inches, whereas many other establishments would consider this an extra large.

Aside from the menu options, Mike said another thing which keeps customers happy is the consistency at Mikey’s Pizzeria.

Patrons often tell the Arndts that they have never had a bad pizza from the establishment, which Mike said is a difficult feat to accomplish, since it can be hard to find real consistency at many restaurants.

“One time you get a good pizza, you go there again and it’s not as good. I’m telling you, here, we are very consistent. And I think that’s what sets us apart from anybody else, is our consistency,” he said.

“We do everything from scratch,” Mike went on, adding that he is particularly proud of the dough. “There’s a process that I go through to get my dough perfect. And I’m very, very picky about my dough.”

To the Arndts, it is essential that their customers know what they’re getting when they walk in the doors.

In return for the community showing such kindness to the business, the family makes sure to pay it forward.

Those from the various sports teams and other clubs at WPAS have benefitted from the generosity of Mikey’s Pizzeria, with the business having made donations and other contributions to the district.

In addition to monetary donations, Mike said gift certificates to the pizzeria and free meals are also handed out to groups and organizations in the area, particularly if they are conducting a fundraiser for a good cause.

Mikey’s Pizzeria has been involved in a number of benefit functions, as well, to assist those in the community who are in need.

Also, whether a customer is a local resident or an out of town visitor, they can expect to receive the best deals at Mikey’s. If someone orders two large pizzas, for instance, staff will offer special pricing, even if the person ordering is unaware of any discounts.

“They don’t know about this, but we’re going to give them that,” said Mike, of newcomers who are unfamiliar with the pizzeria.

While their business takes up much of the Arndt’s time, Shauna still manages to squeeze in visits to WPAS, where she helps out with such activities as keeping score for the wrestling team.

“She’s always volunteering her time,” Mike praised.

He said the business keeps him from getting as hands-on in the community as he would like, but he still helps whenever possible.

For example, Mike, a former pitcher at both Mott Community College and the University of Detroit, recently donated his time during a youth baseball program at WPAS, where he taught pitching techniques to the youngsters.

Furthermore, Shauna was the president of A.I.O. Little League for years, while Mike served as Little League coach when their children were growing up.

He added that, when his son played baseball, he was often on hand to help the coach and to also pitch to the team during batting practice.

Mike said he misses doing this, but he and Shauna’s main focus now is getting their children through college, expanding their business and starting the next chapter of their lives.

The Arndts will be opening a second Mikey’s Pizzeria, which will be in the former Coach’s Pizza & Bakery building in Hale.

Mike said they hope to be ready for business the first week of April, and he has pledged to customers that they can expect the same service and handmade products from the new location as they do from the existing one.

He also gave credit for the expansion to the pizzeria patrons, many of whom are dedicated regulars which order from Mikey’s up to three times each week. “That’s how we make it – from our regulars in this town and the surrounding areas.”

In addition to offering delicious food with consistent results, Mike said another thing which keeps diners coming through the doors has been the fact that he and Shauna are there almost all the time, which doesn’t go unnoticed by customers. “We’ve been here eight years and we’ve been here almost every day.”

And, as anyone who has tried ordering from an eatery near closing time knows, it isn’t always the most pleasant experience when staff are winding down a long day and just want to go home.

Customers at Mikey’s, however, know they will be treated the same whether they place the first or last order of the day. “I never close early and I never not answer the phone. I’m very, very strict about that,” Mike remarked.

“We take care of our customers the best we can,” he continued.

Mikey’s Pizzeria is open during the winter months from 4-9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday from 4-8 p.m., with expanded hours beginning in the spring.

The establishment is located at 300 S. Bullock St., and staff may be contacted by calling 756-2738. More information is also available by visiting the pizzeria’s online Facebook page.