PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — A new ownership group has taken the reins at a trio of longtime Platteville businesses.
Eatery Pizzeria Uno, as well as watering holes The Annex and The Back Bar, were sold recently to a quartet of younger owners, Trent Fleege, Matt Tranel, Ryan Longnecker and Nathan “Squeak” Wallenhorst.
Fleege emphasized that the new owners are excited to continue the success that the previous owners maintained for the better part of three decades.
“We are trying to carry on what they have started,” he said. “These businesses are definitely an integral part of the community.”
John and Karen Utley became the owners of Pizzeria Uno in April 1994.
John noted that the Platteville Pizzeria Uno is the only restaurant in the country that bears that name and is not part of the Uno Pizzeria & Grill franchise. The local restaurant bears that distinction because the eatery’s previous owner trademarked the Pizzeria Uno moniker before the franchise had been formed.
Utley said he was surprised that he and his wife continued to operate the business as long as they did.
“We knew it was going to be a good, successful business,” John recalled. “But no, we never thought we would own it for this long. I am really happy with the way it worked out for us.”
One year after buying Pizzeria Uno, the couple also purchased a nearby appliance store and turned it into The Annex. And about a dozen years after that, they utilized space behind The Annex to start The Back Bar.
All businesses are located within close proximity on U.S. Business 151, and the employees who work there feel a close bond.
“Our employees are like one big family,” Utley said. “We have had hundreds and hundreds of kids who went to (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) who worked here. There are employees who met here and eventually got married.”
Business partners Fleege and Tranel teamed with longtime company employees Longnecker and Wallenhorst to purchase the businesses.
Longnecker has long managed the kitchen at Pizzeria Uno, while Wallenhorst has held a leadership position at the two bars.
Wallenhorst said he is humbled by the opportunity to take over the operations, particularly after observing the hard work that made them successful over the years.
“To be in business for 27 years, that is hard to do, especially nowadays,” he said. “Ryan and I are really happy they trusted us taking over their baby.”
John Utley said the admiration goes both ways.
“We had other offers, but we were more comfortable with these guys,” he said.
The new owners emphasized that they aren’t planning to reinvent the wheel, although they have some ideas they hope to implement in the years ahead.
Fleege said he doesn’t anticipate any major menu changes, but he hopes to make some improvements to the facilities.
Wallenhorst, meanwhile, said he would love to one day utilize the open space behind Back Bar, turning it into a place where customers could play volleyball.
While the staff largely has been comprised of college students, Wallenhorst emphasized that the customer base is made up of a broader demographic.
It’s not uncommon for out-of-towners to make the trip to Platteville just to visit Pizzeria Uno, arriving at the eatery on side-by-sides they drove from surrounding towns. Many local business leaders are among the frequent customers at the establishments as well, Wallenhorst said.
The loyal customers are something Wallenhorst doesn’t take for granted.
“We have a really good local crowd that loves to support us,” he said. “We see the same regulars who think of this as a great place to come and unwind. We want to make sure they have the same great experience here that they’re used to.”