What started as one man’s dream quickly became a successful reality for one St. Louis family. Sitting mere feet from its original location at Mackenzie and Heege, Fortel’s Pizza Den, which celebrated 30 years in business this January, offers a slice of the American dream in a kid-friendly, family-oriented environment.
Bob Fortel, who worked in the food industry all his life, passed away eight years ago after a massive heart-attack. His wife Jan Fortel, who founded the business with him, said that owning his own pizzeria was his life-long dream, and he worked hard for it.
“It is my life. I opened it with my husband, and it was his dream to have Fortel’s," Jan Fortel said. "When you have a family business, that business becomes a huger part of family.”
Fortel added that much of her family's life revolved around running the restaurant.
“I’m here all the time. I’m here every Friday night and there is always someone from our family here. That is important," Fortel said. “When we are in the kitchen we work. Customers come first. But the kids get to have fun when we are not working. This environment is very suitable for family fun,” said Fortel.
After Bob passed, Jan and her two daughters, Shelly and Shannon, worked to not only keep Bob’s dream alive, but make it bigger. Fortel’s moved to its current location in May of 2003, just five months after Bob’s passing.
Fortel's focuses on being appealing to families in the area. The large patio out front is often packed during the summer with parents, children and local sports teams celebrating after a game.
“We have a lot of regulars. A lot of the Affton community comes in and supports us year-round. We have families coming in after sports games or a trip to Grant’s Farm, or even out-of-towners that come to experience Fortel’s for the first time,” Fortel said.
Fortel’s is obviously well-known for their pizzas, with Bob’s secret homemade pizza sauce. The most popular pizzas to order are the pepperoni and sausage. However, Fortel’s also offers a variety of pasta, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
In the past few years, Fortel’s has added an addition to their menu to suit the needs of St. Louis: fish. “The cod has become really popular. It is funny sometimes to see so many people coming into a pizzeria to order fish. But during Lent, it is incredibly popular,” Fortel said.
If a pizzeria known for their special sauce can make fish sell like hotcakes, it must be doing something right. Some might think that 30 years of making pizzas day in and day out could get a little boring. Fortel has a different view. “Making pizzas is something I never get tired of doing.”