Fenton is made up of two parts. I like to call them “Old” Fenton and “New” Fenton. New Fenton is filled with stores and busy streets, all of the commodities we find necessary in this day and age (Walmart, Target, Home Depot, etc.). Downtown Fenton or Old Fenton is the Fenton my husband grew up knowing, filled with small stores and quaint houses. It’s got that nostalgic feeling of the past. Recently, it’s been morphing into the “new” place to be; restaurants and stores are being built everyday. Sidewalks and benches have recently been added and now line the streets. It’s becoming new again. New with charm that is. Everyday you see or hear about something they are adding.
In a lot of ways it’s exciting. So much thought has gone into every single thing that has been built and it truly is an amazing and exciting time for Fenton. On the flip side, there are establishments that have been with Fenton since the beginning. Places that struggle to stay current in an ever changing downtown. In the heart of downtown is Johnny’s Pizzeria. It’s a local bar and restaurant that has been a part of Fenton for over 51 years. When you take a step into this restaurant, it’s like stepping back 50 years in time. You can feel and see the history in every room.
It was originally owned by Delio, an Italian immigrant who came to be just as much a part of Fenton as Fenton itself, and is now ran by his daughter Sandy after his passing. It’s a staple in the community. I never had the pleasure of meeting Delio, but once you meet Sandy, you know what kind of man he was. She is a hardworking, selfless sweetheart who pours her heart into this restaurant and the customers she grew up knowing. There has never been a time I was there that she wasn’t. She takes pride in the legacy her father leaves behind. This is not just a restaurant but a tribute to an ever changing city. It’s claim to fame is definitely pizza and a banquet room used for many parties, including my wedding shower. I didn’t know then that this would become a place of healing for me. A place that holds so many memories close to my heart.
When the five girls I like to call “The Dream Team” started helping me plan last year’s Nash bash, we frequently held our meetings there. It’s a family restaurant and last year it proved to be difficult. Happy families with babies…babies I could barely look at without breaking down. After a few times there, I started handling it better. Thank God for these girls, an empathetic Sandy and good wine. Now it’s one of my favorite places to be. To see me there this year planning yet another birthday party, you would see a different woman than last year. Not the sad, shutoff person I once was.
This year I walk in with Crue in my arms and the girls fight over who gets to hold him first, usually losing out to Sandy. It’s become a second home. Sometimes I feel badly about just how comfortable we have gotten there. We usually walk in obnoxiously loud, pulling tables together to accommodate our group. Pulling Sandy from her duties to discuss all of the things we are excited about with this year’s party. Yet again, Sandy is providing pizza for this year’s bash. If you thank her, she won’t have it. I remember telling her thank you once, and she replied, “My dad would have loved what you are doing in your son’s name. He would have wanted to be a part of it.”
That’s Sandy. I don’t think she does much with this restaurant or in her life for that matter without thinking about what would have made her dad proud. Just last week, I was sitting around the table with the girls, smiling and bouncing Crue on my knee as he reached for a baby at the neighboring table. Eating pizza and drinking wine, laughing as we discussed our lives. New jobs, babies on the way, searching for Mr. right, planning a wedding, raising three girls, buying new homes. I couldn’t help but be thankful.
The walls at Johnny have heard it all. Looking around the room, you know they have heard much more than the gossiping of our small table. We just add to the already prominent history of that building and the people it has served. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It feels like Nash leads me to the places I’m supposed to be. Crue will grow up going to Johnny’s often during his life. One day I’ll tell him why this restaurant has become so important to me. Until then, I’m enjoying every minute of my time there. I’m sure Nash and Delio look down on all of us smiling often. What could make you smile more than wine, pizza, good friends, and two angels?