Jack Polk’s white Honda Civic, known by his friends as “Satchy,” has at least 10 Satchel’s Pizza bumper stickers on its back window. While Polk doesn’t recall exactly when his collection started, he estimates around 2009, when his grandparents first moved to Gainesville.
The 21-year-old UF computer science senior sees Satchel’s Pizza as more than just a family tradition on his visits to Gainesville. It’s also special for its iconic pizza and artsy atmosphere, he said.
“One of the first things I noticed when I went there was the tables — how they have all these little things in them. One of the tables has bones, like really old bones in it, and then the [floor] has pennies,” Polk said. “[It’s] just really really cool.”
Satchel’s Pizza, founded and owned by 55-year-old Satchel Raye, is celebrating its 20th anniversary March 7. Featuring local folk bands, podcasters and a couple special surprises along the way, Raye’s excited to celebrate his passion project with the community.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Raye first started making pizza when he was 16 at a local pizzeria run by Italian immigrants. Spinning pizzas was much more entertaining to him than high school, he said.
“I fell in love with the restaurant business right away,” Raye said. “I liked the food and the hubbub and the sounds of the silverware and plates. Just the activity — it kind of matched my personality to be high energy.”
Raye moved to Gainesville in 1986 to attend UF, he said. He completed his associate degree in 1989, but while he felt college wasn’t necessarily for him, something about Gainesville had a hold on him, and he knew he wanted to open a pizzeria here.
To Raye, making pizzas was an art.
In addition to food, he was also an artist of multiple mediums. He eventually settled in Gainesville with his wife and was able to start renting the building still used today located at 1800 NE 23rd Ave.
When designing the space, Raye knew incorporating his art into the building design was important to him.
“Marrying those two things and being able to have a place where people can not only come for the food,” he said, “but also an [art] experience feels really good because I'm a painter … so that allows me to make this lifelong piece of art that I really enjoy.”
Satchel’s growth came very quickly. Every week, the restaurant would get busier and busier as word-of-mouth helped propel the pizzeria into local legend status.
About three months into the opening, the Gainesville Sun ran a story in its lifestyle section which praised Satchel’s pizzas and salad and featured a photograph of Raye spinning a pizza. From there, Satchel’s was always busy. On a typical weekend, patrons could wait up to an hour to sit down and an additional hour for the pizza to be ready because of how busy it became.
Shane Tierney, a 37-year-old UF alumnus, first discovered Satchel’s in 2004, about a year after its opening. Tierney’s friends were passionate about pizza, and when word started spreading throughout campus about this new unique pizzeria, Tierney knew they had to try it out.
“This was a totally different experience,” Tierney said. “It was the type of pizza you go to when the Gators just got a big win, or when you pass a test.”
Tierney’s first time visiting Satchel’s was after a Gators game. While he was skeptical, his friends were going on about the place’s electric environment and unique design.
While Tierney lives in Jacksonville now, Satchel’s has remained a staple, even bringing his girlfriend there in recent years to share it with her.
Satchel’s steadily outgrew its setup within the kitchen, Raye said. The building had been a restaurant before Raye began renting, so a lot of the kitchen was renovated from what had been left behind.
In 2012, Satchel’s had a fire that ended up ruining the kitchen. While this was devastating and caused the restaurant to close for three months, it allowed for Raye to expand their unit to better accommodate their sales.
“That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Raye said.
Raye describes the experience of running Satchel’s as rewarding but exhausting. Raye hasn’t celebrated anniversaries for Satchel’s in the past, but he knew for the 20th anniversary he needed to do something, even if it was small.
As he began gearing up for its 20th anniversary, he knew he wanted to do something special to highlight Satchel’s impact on the Gainesville community, while still sticking to what Satchel’s does best: celebrating local art and pizza.
His first idea was celebrating his employees through Satchel’s employee trading cards – photos of the employees on vintage baseball trading cards, featuring stories of why they started working at Satchel’s and some of their favorite Gainesville spots. While he doesn’t expect these to sell out, he considers his employees to be as important to the business as its food.
The trading cards will debut at the event March 7. Additionally, the event will feature two local live bands: the Front Porch Backsteppers at 5 p.m. and Wax Wings starting at 6:30 p.m. The event will also be hosted live by podcasters The Election Profit Makers starting at 8 p.m.
“Anything we do, I want to do it 100%,” Raye said. “Our motto from the beginning was keep it simple. It's definitely not simple [the restaurant], but our motto is still to try to keep it simple.”
Contact Gracey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @graceydavis_.
Gracey Davis is a third-year journalism major and a writer for The Avenue. She is also minoring in theatre. When she's not writing, she loves reading, spending time with her friends, and listening to way too much One Direction.