Sale of Johnnie Salami’s Riverfront Pizza ends an era in Glen Arbor

By Norm Wheeler

Sun editor

Once upon a time Glen Arbor was a sleepier little town. In the 1980s there were two little grocery stores, Warnes’s Grocery (now Bear Paw Pizza) and Steffen’s IGA (a smaller version of Anderson’s Market). The Western Avenue Grill was just a small building with a little kitchen named the Soda Shop. There was no big sun deck surrounded by shops called Boone Docks, just a house on the corner with a little restaurant downstairs called Julie’sArt’s Tavern only served pickled pig’s feet and pickled eggs out of glass jars, there was no bend to the bar, and there was a wood stove in the corner by the phone. Rich Quick’s gas station was next to Art’s. There was no Cherry Republic yet (but Bob Sutherland was already selling t-shirts out of the back of his car). Lake Street Studios was a dilapidated auto repair shop with an oil pit underneath. 

In 1983, Tim and Sue Nichols purchased an old rental house on the oxbow of the Crystal River together with the Harris Properties office and the Currier Maintenance office. Tim squeezed a pizza oven into the eastern end of the house by the river, set up a couple of picnic tables outside by the take-out only window, and called it Johnnie Salami’s Riverfront Pizza and Specialties. 

“That sounded like a good pizza name,” he laughs. “Rather than Tim’s Pizza.” 

Suzanne Wilson, one of the founders of the Glen Arbor Art Association (now the Glen Arbor Art Center) painted him a sign, and a Glen Arbor institution commenced its now 38-year run.

“At first it was just pizza with basic toppings, sandwiches and salads,” Tim recalls. “There were no specialty pizzas like now.” Tim’s success led the Nichols to buy out the other partners in ’94, and then “around ’98 Sue set up a gift shop for a few years as part of our ‘and Specialties’.”

By 2000, Sue’s gift shop had become a deli. “I didn’t want to change what I was doing,” Tim laughs, “so she created her own menu. She enjoys cooking and being creative, while I prefer to just make 10 or 12 things.” They nicknamed the deli Bad Sue’s Good Food and it came to include a thriving catering business. With the help of Suzy Viswat, (“she was the good Sue,” both Sue and Tim chuckle) the deli became a popular lunch place for lots of locals, with daily specials including the tasty chicken tortilla soup and Sue’s homemade desserts, while the catering business grew to serve small parties and even gatherings of up to 200 people.

“I just tried to work with people on what they were hungry for,” Sue explains. “If they couldn’t afford shrimp dinners, we would come up with a shrimp pasta so there could be shrimp as part of the wedding dinner. We always try to work with people and their budgets.”

“And it was always the same problem as today.” Tim adds. “You can’t get enough help in July, and you don’t need it in the winter.”

One connection that helped Tim get through the slower off-season has been the students boarding at the Leelanau School. 

The relationship with the Leelanau School “started 30 years ago, and I’ve really enjoyed that,” said Tim. “I’m a late-night person, so I took orders and then delivered to each dorm at the school around 10 each night. It has always been enjoyable to go there and to meet the students. By 10 o’clock teenagers are hungry, no matter how much you fed them at 5:30. It depends on whether or not they liked what the school served for dinner. Last night I was swamped. Sometimes it’s just a few orders of fries, but then sometimes it’s bread sticks, pizzas, and fried stuff. That has really helped get me through the winters.”

So, what do Tim and Sue Nichols have planned for their retirement? They like to travel down to the Ashville, N.C., area in the dead of winter. Tim plans to “wait and see,” while Sue figures she will keep cooking part-time when new owners Matt and Katy Wiesen reopen in the spring. Owners of the Crystal River Outfitters Recreational District, which includes Coastal, the M-22 Store and Winery, the Cyclery, and the kayak rental, the Wiesens recently announced their purchase and plans on Facebook:

“Congratulations to Sue & Tim on an unofficial retirement (again Sue will continue to cook!) Glen Arbor is so lucky to have had Riverfront Pizza & Specialties for close to 40 years! We promise to continue your legacy and won’t let you down. That being said, after much thought we have decided that the only way to do this transition in ownership in the BEST way is to close for a few months. If we want to do this right and professionally and WOW you with our new changes, the only way to do this is to re-open late spring 2022.  We appreciate your understanding and patience at this time and look forward to enjoying RIVERFRONT SOCIAL- All Day Provisions, very soon. Please keep checking our social media for updates over the upcoming months!”

Tim and Sue Nichols likewise announced their retirement and shared their thanks as follows:

“As many of you know we have sold to our wonderful neighbors, Matt & Katy Wiesen, and Riverfront is now part of the Crystal River Recreational District.

“We want to thank this wonderful community for all the support and love you have shown us since 1983! It has been a lot of fun with a lot of challenges, but most of all it has been a great place to have a business and to have the opportunity to meet so many great people! We have left our business in great hands and can’t wait to see the new and improved version!”

In answer to questions they have fielded from the public, the Wiesens offered the following on Facebook: Riverfront will remain a restaurant; we will still have basically the same menu, with more to come; Tim & Sue are staying in the area; Riverfront will still do catering orders, call and ask if you have a need for future meals; Tim, Sue and Melissa, as well as some of our current staff, will stay on to help with the transition; there will be exciting improvements so stay tuned!

“As bittersweet as it is, this is our last week officially running Riverfront,” Tim and Sue wrote on their website in late September. “Again we would like to thank our wonderful customers and our great staff over the last three decades. We’ve had a great time in a great location, and thank you all.”

Tim and Sue, this has been good work done well! Congratulations on your retirement. We will see you around the neighborhood.