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Dave's Gus and Tony's Pizza and Steak House: Good food at a good price

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 05/06/2013 11:21 AM

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WAUKON, Iowa — "We're nothing fancy," said Dave Bell, who owns Dave's Gus and Tony's Pizza and Steak House with his wife, Olivia. "We have great food at a great price."

The couple has owned the Waukon eatery since 1981. Dave worked for Gus Kapnisis in the Quad-Cities, Mount Vernon and Manchester, and he came to Waukon when Kapnisis opened a restaurant here in 1980. He and Olivia got married in January 1981, and they bought the business that May.

Tony is Gus' brother. He has a health-food business in Florida.

"When we bought the business, the sign was brand new, and after while, everyone knew us as Gus and Tony's, so why change the name," Dave said. "When Gus opened a new Gus and Tony's in West Union, we added 'Dave's' to our name so people wouldn't be confused."

It was the heart of the farm crisis when the Bells bought the restaurant. Interest rates were 21 percent. A year later, they bought the building. Despite the hard times of those early years, they've been successful. They plan to remodel soon, replacing the booths in the center of the restaurant with tables.

The menu, as the cafe's name suggests, includes pizza and steaks. A variety of specialty pizzas are offered with the House Special — sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, green pepper, onion, beef and mushrooms — the most popular. All pizzas are available with regular or pan crust. Dave makes a Gus' Special with sausage, green papers and onions and a Josh's Special, named after a former employee who now owns his own restaurant. Josh always put pepperoni above and below a layer of mozzarella and cheddar. Pizza dough and sauce are made from scratch, and Dave uses sliced cheese.

"It melts more uniformly than shredded cheese," he said.

A few years ago, Dave added barbecued ribs and burgers, which are popular. A variety of specialty burgers are available.

In addition to sirloin, porterhouse and New York strip steaks, Gus and Tony's serves pork chops, chicken, shrimp, catfish and cod. Also on the menu are lasagna and spaghetti. Sandwiches, salads and appetizers are also offered.

If people have room for dessert — many don't because of ample portions — chocolate cream and lemon meringue pie are always on the menu.

The couple's sons, Drew, Nick and Marc, grew up working in the restaurant. Drew and his wife, Christie, still work there. The young couple's son, Mason, feels right at home. His baby picture hangs on the wall with the toddler wearing an apron and a pizza cutter and whisk.

Gus and Tony's has about 20 employees. Waitress Sue Sivesind has been with them since the start. Her parents owned the building before the Bells bought it.

"We say Sue came with the building," said Olivia with a smile. "We have waitresses who worked for us as teenagers, and now their children work here."

The Bells are strong supporters of the Waukon Booster Club, which sells their pizza by the slice in its concession stand.

"They sell a lot of our pizza," Dave said. "It's good advertising."

Olivia works full time at the local grocery store and part time for a trucking company, filling in when needed at the restaurant. She worked full time with Dave for 15 years, but when the kids were in school, she found a job that allowed her to be home at night.

Dave said hard work is what has made Dave's Gus and Tony's Pizza and Steak House successful.

"I never could have done it without Olivia," he said. "It's been good."