From Caesar's to Benito's
Saline Marketplace Changes, Fall 2013
by Billie Ochberg
From the August, 2013 issue
Nick and Amy Wallen, owners of Benito's Pizza, are moving their restaurant from East Michigan Avenue to downtown Saline, into the space most recently occupied by Little Caesar's.
The Wallens have spent months renovating the space. "We want it to blend Old World Italian with historic Saline," Nick says, sitting at a table in his new location on a sunny late August afternoon as contractors put the finishing touches on the kitchen. Amy is nearby, keeping an eye on their two-year-old son. Their four-year-old daughter paints a birdhouse and listens to her dad share the history of the building.
Long before it housed a pizzeria, the nineteenth-century building was home to Schmid's Food meat market. The Wallens combed through more than 700 photos at the Saline Historic Society before selecting a handful to display on the walls. One shows Saline's four corners from the 1930s, back when there was a movie theater downtown. Another goes even further back in time and features the 1908 Saline High School baseball team.
Amy, who is attending nursing school, also does all the bookkeeping and payroll for the restaurant, and she hardly sits down. "The kids really own the place," she says, as her son pushes the front door open and closed. Like her husband, Amy has deep ties to Saline. Nick graduated from Saline High and EMU. Amy grew up in Dundee, but her grandmother was a Saline High graduate. "So, we've come full circle," she says with a smile, before leaping up to follow her son back outside again.
Two walls are covered with faux brick paneling that the Wallens sponge-painted in beige and dark brown to give it an antiqued look. The floors are covered in brand new wide plank laminate, and there's just enough space for four tables. "We hope to add some outdoor seating as well," Nick says, but he expects most of his sales to be a mix of delivery and takeout. He is very excited at the
prospect of increased foot traffic, which was rare in their old spot.
To catch those passersby, Nick says, "we'll be offering pizza by the slice now." Also new will be fresh salads and cold soda pop to grab and go from soon-to- be-installed coolers. Otherwise the menu will be the same. "We'll still be offering the Big Benito Challenge," Nick assures: if you can eat a twenty-four-inch pizza single-handedly in an hour or less, you get a free T-shirt and a free pizza every month for a year. Look for a special challenge in March, the restaurant's third anniversary, when teams of two may compete to see who can eat the most pizza in just thirty minutes.
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