MOUNT PLEASANT — In 1921, Warren Harding was the president, the Yankees made their first appearance in the World Series, and a loaf of bread cost less than 10 cents. It's also when Wells Brothers Restaurant in Mount Pleasant opened its doors, and it has been slinging slices ever since.
The restaurant has been family-owned and serving the community for 100 years at the same address it started, 2148 Mead St. in Mount Pleasant.
"Humbled, to be honest with you," Bill Rivers, the current owner and grandson of the founder Jim Wells, said.
Rivers has been the owner for the past two decades. He took over from his uncle. He works with his daughters and cousins too. It's a complete family affair.
In that time, they have established themselves as a cornerstone of the Racine and Mount Pleasant communities.
"Birthdays, funerals, weddings, whatever, it's all here. It happens here," Bill said.
In fact, Bill used the phrase "life happens here" because his family restaurant has been a part of so many different life moments for so many people.
"I've had friends whose parents have passed away, 'can I have the funeral dinner there?' 'Absolutely.' So you try to make it as warm and welcome for them as you can. We’ve had bridal showers here. We’ve had baby showers here. We’ve had, you know, birthday parties."
In that time, they have grabbed the attention of some high-profile athletes too. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan used to get his pizza from a woman who worked at his charity in Texas. She loved the pizza and thought Nolan Ryan would too. Turns out he did.
"She used to bring pizzas out to him, and we’d half bake freeze them for her. She'd bring them on. He’d cook them up and enjoy them," Bill said.
Even Racine native and former Milwaukee Buck Caron Butler is a regular.
"Caron grew up here in the neighborhood. He’s been coming here forever. He’s a great guy."
While those are the high profile customers, to the Wells family it's all about the regulars.
“Tuesdays, you know, Frank gets a small cheese and sauce and one small packet of peppers on his way out," Liz Surendonk, Bill's daughter, said.
They've had time to cultivate these relationships and be a consistent part of people's lives. Since 1921 there have been multiple major economic recessions, wars, and even a global pandemic so far.
While the world changes, Wells Brothers Restaurant stays the same.
"It tastes the same as it did when I was a kid, most people tell us that," Bill said.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to make some changes. They offer no in-person dining. It's take-out only. That has kept them busy, but business has still suffered.
"You know we’ve lost 18 people that worked for me, you know. I had to lay them off and that hurts," Bill said.
They experimented with partly opening their restaurant in the summer, but decided to close in-person dining. They are hoping that with the vaccine rollout they will be able to serve people inside in the next few months.
As for the longer-term, Bill wants to retire someday. His daughter, a fourth-generation Wells Brother employee, will take over and steer the restaurant in the direction she chooses.
"You know if they want to expand it or if they want to do something different with it, you know, that’s in their ballpark when they have it," Bill said.
In the meantime, they will continue serving up delicious pizza and hope to have a few 100 year anniversary specials.