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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Satchel’s owner passionate about pizza, art

Satch·el: a small, often cloth bag.   

Or, an artist who owns a one-of-a-kind pizza joint in Gainesville.

The second definition may only be useful to Alachua County residents, but those who know it dine in the product of a man’s passion for art and pizza. 

The beginning

Satchel Raye, 41, was born in Gainesville to devout Southern Baptist UF alumni. Raised in Jacksonville, he spent much of his time in Gainesville, visiting family and becoming a Gators fan. 

When he was 16, Raye got a job at an Italian restaurant, Gubbio’s, to save money for a car. 

Bruno Santioni, an Italian immigrant whose family ran the restaurant, became like a second father to Raye, teaching him to spin pizzas and make dough. Many of the recipes at Satchel’s are based on what he learned from Santioni. 

Raye continued to work at Gubbio’s until graduation, then he applied to one college, UF.

“One week after high school, I was living in Gainesville, going to Summer A,” he said.

But soon, Raye became unhappy at UF. Like Jacksonville, he said, Gainesville was too big and too crowded. He decided it was time for a break and returned to Gubbio’s to work as a server. 

The world and travel

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After giving art school a try, Raye returned to UF to receive his art degree. Soon, he saved enough money to travel in America, Europe and Asia.

In Thailand, Raye met a Buddhist monk and went through a religious experience that challenged his Christian roots. Raye said he learned much about true love and devotion in Thailand.

When Raye returned to the states, he received a phone call from a friend he met in France and was invited to go to Jamaica for a short “vacation.” 

Raye stayed in slums with impoverished people, far away from the tourist-attracting areas and modern conveniences. 

“We had to walk to get water,” he said. 

Upon his return, Raye decided to experience homelessness himself. 

“I was maybe 25 at the time, and I was homeless by choice,” he said. “It was probably the best three months of my life.”

He lived on lawns and in homeless shelters in Atlanta. He met many Vietnam veterans and many alcoholics. 

At the end of his homeless stint, Raye said the generosity and camaraderie of the homeless showed him that friends and passion — not money and property — were the key to success. 

Pizza and art

Raye moved to Gainesville and began working for Leonardo’s Pizza by the Slice in 1993 and continued there until 2001 — at one point, he lived on the Leonardo’s roof — and got in touch with art.  He met his wife, Caroline, when they both worked there and married her in 1998. 

In 2001, she gave birth to a son, and Raye quit Leonardo’s when his hours were cut.

He felt it was unfair for a long-time employee with a baby to have his income reduced. 

After a year, he knew it was time to take a chance and open up his own pizza shop. 

“I was determined; I had to do it,” he said. “I just happened to catch [the previous owner] at the right time,” he said. “It was just luck.”

On March 7, 2003, Satchel’s Pizza opened its doors.

Raye only expected it to be a small enterprise, but the restaurant has become immensely popular.

“This place is like his canvas,” said Danny Lore, the night manager of Lightnin’ Salvage, a trinket shop located behind the dining room.  “There’s always a work in progress,” he said.

Lore said he has never worked for anyone more family-oriented than Raye, who works hard to make the working environment at Satchel’s as family like as possible. 

Raye puts money into retirement and health funds for his employees and gives them paid vacation and benefits. He feels it’s important to give employees wages they can live on. 

His devotion to his staff and customers has paid off. The wait can be more than an hour on weekends, and the restaurant doesn’t even offer breadsticks because there isn’t room in the ovens for them, Raye said.  

“I like the sound of the dishes clanking in the dishwasher,” Raye said. “I like the people. I like the food.”

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