Phone: (765) 453-1900 Address: 4001 S. Dixon Rd. Kokomo, IN 46902

About Us

History

The story of how Mike's Italian Grill came to be, from its humble beginnings by a local man laid off of his job during the 1980 recession to becoming a successful and unique restaurant to the Kokomo community, is a testament to power of determination and creativity in spite of adversity and the importance of being rooted in the local community. Read on to learn more about the history of Mike's Italian Grill.

The Recession that began in 1980 caused a lot of hardship for Americans, and Mike of Mike's Italian Grill was no different. He was working for Delco Electronics Corporation based in Kokomo, Indiana, but was laid off during the difficult economic conditions in early 1980. Looking for something to do, he decided to open a produce stand. He knew the men who owned an old gas station on the corner of Alto and Dixon Roads, and they loaned Mike $1,000 to buy and sell produce there. So, Mike opened up shop, not knowing anything about the produce market but determined to stay busy and make a living.

Mike enjoyed the work, but he was not making enough money. That issue, coupled with the approaching winter season, encouraged him to decide to open up a small pizza place on the corner to stay in business. He did not know what he was doing - he even had to be taught how to make pizza! - but he had to do something to get him through the winter.

Soon after he began selling pizza, Mike was called back to return to Delco. Now, he worked his days at Delco and his afternoons and evenings at the pizza place. By the spring of 1981, with the produce season beginning, he would work days at Delco, evenings and nights at the restaurant, sleep for three hours, drive to Indianapolis to pick up fresh produce from the produce market, and then start his day again as he drove back to work at Delco.
Needless to say, Mike's life was simplified when Delco laid him off again in February 1982. Now, he could focus his time on running the growing restaurant and produce stand and, although he was not making much money, he did enjoy going to work every day. "It was like I was crafting something," Mike says.

The restaurant originally sat 38 people, and he would usually run it each day by himself or with one other person. Around this time, Mike had a conversation with a friend of his who worked at Delco. He was on his way into work for the day, and he said to Mike, "Fifteen more years, and I’m out of there!" That comment really made an impact on Mike. "I came to realize that I really liked what I did - it wasn’t like a job to be, but more like a craft. I was still relatively young, and I couldn’t imagine spending the next 15 to 20 years doing something that I didn’t like doing just for the money. So I made a decision not to go back to Delco." So when Delco called back in 1984, Mike turned them down and devoted himself entirely to his budding restaurant.
However, Mike was also thinking of committing himself to another project - his girlfriend, Ann. "I realized if I was going to get married, and if I was going to run this restaurant for a living, I was going to have to make a real commitment, really learn the business and the craft, and be able to buy the property myself." He took a course in real estate and got his real estate permit so he could have something to fall back on if he could not come to terms with the sellers of the property on Alto and Dixon Roads. He knew that if he was going to be married and start a family, he had to have a steady and stable job to support his family. By August of 1985, Mike was married and had bought the property on Alto and Dixon Roads. Now, it was time to grow. "Failure was not an option - I had to make it work!"

Mike met a food salesman, Mike Butita, an ethnic Italian and a lifelong chef, who gave Mike some pointers on his food product. He told him that, although his product was very good, he should start making spaghetti, his own bread and pizza dough - from scratch. "That seemed huge! Like an awful lot of work! Most places don’t do that. They buy their bread either already made or in a frozen state, but we were talking scratch. He showed me how it was done, we worked with a few recipes, and then I modified them and made them my own." So, Mike made his own spaghetti sauce and bread and built a basic proofing cabinet to make his bread rise. "It was very crude, but it worked." After some time, though, Mike learned how to make his own bread more efficiently and accurately, so it was not such a huge chore anymore. Today, like clockwork, his employees make fresh bread every morning. "My bread recipe is what really made me popular, and my dough recipes for my pizza products. And I began creating other entrees, all of which are my own recipes that I developed."

The consequences of this improved and unique food product were significant - the demand for Mike's Pizza increased dramatically. "I got to the point where I was doing all the business I could do with the facility that I had, and my building wouldn’t allow me to do any more volume - I only sat 38 people, and my itty bitty kitchen wouldn’t allow me to expand or put more anymore workers in there." What Mike needed was more space!

In 1988, Mike thought adding a drive thru for carry out would help meet the increased demands for his food product, but it became clear that he needed to build a larger facility. He talked to designer Dave Heckman, who drew up some ideas and referred Mike to the Hayes Brothers contractors, and before they knew it, they were building a new building.

Construction began in the winter of 1988. They began by building the new building over the top of the existing gas station, like a shell over the old building. In a matter of three weeks, it looked like Mike's Pizza had an entirely new building. This approach was good because the crew were then able to work on the interior of the building through the winter without a weather problem. The work inside was extensive - while the dining area was taken out, the restaurant operated by carry out and delivery only. However, once work on the kitchen began, Mike had to close the restaurant for 14 weeks. Although this construction period was exciting, it was also an anxious time.

"I was scared to death because I had borrowed all the money that I could borrow, taken all the bank could loan me, and I was paying my contractors as they invoiced me, and I just cut them a check on the spot. I couldn't sleep at night - I was only sleeping 3hrs a night, going in at 1-2am, wiring or staining, working with the crew and contractors, all the time. I was scared that I would lose it all if it didn’t work."

Two weeks before Mike was to reopen the restaurant, a local business man came by to visit Mike, and he told Mike that his plan was going to fail. "He said I lost all my customers because they went somewhere else, and it would be like I was starting all over again when I reopened. I had been counting on doing the volume that I had done previously before I closed so I could repay the loans." Needless to say, Mike was very nervous. "I had $900 left to my name to buy food materials to be able to sell, that’s all I had! And I was scared I would lose my home - I figured I was going to get behind.”
Mike reopened on Valentine's Day of 1989 and his business tripled immediately. "I had so much business I couldn’t manufacture the food quick enough! I didn’t have enough staff or enough equipment - but that was a pleasant problem to have!"

Now, instead of losing business, Mike's Pizza was having growing pains. His new building had 16 tables and seated 80 people, but sometimes people were waiting an hour or so for a table. So, a second building phase began again with the Hayes Brothers in the fall of 1991, doubling the size of the dining room and adding on to the kitchen, all the while staying open. Just as in the first building project, Mike worked each day with the contractors, and he and Larry Hayes had a great chemistry in creating the new section. "I knew what I wanted, and Larry knew how to make it pretty."

What makes the south dining area of Mike's Italian Grill so unique is its beautiful woodwork and the revolving airplane. As far as the woodworking goes, Mike attributes the genius all to Larry Hayes. "Larry had an idea with using old artifacts in the new building - and one day, he brought me old doors and mahogany panels out of Procter Mansion in Cincinnati, Ohio. When I saw the stuff that Larry had bought before he refinished these artifacts, I told him I've thrown better stuff on the burn pile. I was scared and I thought it would look bad! But he just told me to trust him, and I did, and he made beautiful things out of it." But the airplane was Mike's idea. He let his three year old son pick out the 1/3 scaled PT 17 Super Steerman radio-controlled plane that flies around the south dining room to this day! After adding more parking to the south lot, the new wing opened July 1, 1992, and the restaurant has grown ever since. He continued having parking problems, which he solved in 2002 when he bought the house to the west of the restaurant and donated it to Harrison Township Fire Department for training. They did a controlled burn on it after their training was done on a Saturday, and by Monday, Davidson Excavating came in, and he had a stone parking lot!

Since then, Mike's Pizza has changed its name to Mike's Italian Grill in order to highlight the expansion of its food product, which today includes pizza, breadsticks, pastas, grill items, and delicious desserts. The restaurant has constantly stayed steady, and Mike is happy that he has been able to give the Kokomo community tasty, quality and affordable entrees, get to know many of the people in the community, send his kids to college, and support local charities, churches, and youth athletics. Mike's Italian Grill has sponsored nearly 150 teams since 1980. And he wouldn’t have been able to give back to the community as he has without the support of his customers. "My favorite part of owning the restaurant is serving folks I know, meeting people I don't know, and being able to help local charities. It has all been very rewarding for me. All the folks out there have made it possible for me to make a living, and here we are - 2011! And still going strong!"

In light of these difficult economic times, Mike, as well as his employees, depend on the restaurant to make a living, so going out of business is not an option. "We must keep our food quality very high and very affordable to ensure that we live, the business stays alive, and so we can continue supporting the community, because we’re all in this together. We pulled through that recession in 1980, and we’ll pull through this one too if we all stick together."

About Us / Our Commitment to You

At Mike's Italian Grill, we believe in families. It is our privilege and joy to maintain a facility that caters to families. We believe it is important for families to be able to come together and share a meal in a nice and attractive atmosphere, where parents can get to know their children.

What makes Mike's Italian Grill different is the consistency in the food product, original recipes, and the personal attention we give to our guests because we are a local establishment and literally live next door to our customers. Unlike chain restaurants, the profit we make stays in town and much of it goes back into the community, as we sponsor countless local charities and youth athletics. We have watched our neighbors' children grow, and we really care about the people who come in. The quality of our food product also makes us different. We do not shop around, searching for the cheapest product. Instead, we value quality and consistency and buy the same product, no matter the price. That makes us a lot different from other restaurants.

Our commitment to families, quality food, and our local community is what has made Mike's Italian Grill unique and loved in Kokomo since 1980.