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Chicago-style pizza lovers no longer have to drive 300 miles for a slice of deep dish pie. On Nine Mile, just west of Woodward in Ferndale, is MiChigo Pizza, where owners Mike Miner and Bill Hooker are serving up the Windy City classic.
The name, pronounced “mish-uh-go,” is simple. It’s a combination of the state of Mi(chigan) and the city of Chi(ca)go, the theme for the pizza eatery.
Partners in life for three years and in business for 18 months, Miner and Hooker agreed there aren’t many local places around where people can order a two-inch thick, buttery crust piled high with toppings, layered with cheese, made complete with homemade sauce.
“It was by fate, to be perfectly honest,” says Miner, 33, about their idea. “I have a sales background and I was tired of making other people money.”
Hooker, originally from the Upper Peninsula, lived in Haslett near Lansing and owned an optometry business. “I never thought I would move to Ferndale, but I was living there and traveling back and forth so I did the research, sold my practice, sold my car and liquidated every last penny to make this happen,” says Hooker, 58, who is a fan of Chicago in part because his daughter from a previous marriage lives there. “I started cooking in high school when I was 16. I worked in restaurants throughout college. I’ve always loved cooking,” he says.
Together, they began to experiment by preparing specialty pizzas for their friends and family, who told them they should sell their recipes. “My mom made a sauce. We tweaked it to make it our own,” says Miner.
The next step was obvious.
Only a short walk away from where they live is MiChigo Pizza, which they’ve designed to represent both Michigan and Chicago in a clean, neighborhood-style environment. Exposed brick adds character to the walls adorned with photos of local celebrities like Oprah, Eminem and Aretha Franklin. Miner and Hooker show their pride and pay homage to well-known LGBT communities with photos of Boystown and Ferndale.
Beyond the decor is a diverse menu that features Chicago-style pizza, flatbreads, grinderz, salads and a couple desserts.
“Our ingredients are all fresh. I go to the market almost every day due to limited space and to maintain the freshness of our meats and vegetables,” says Hooker, adding that they offer Daiya, dairy-free vegan cheese.
The Vampire’s Nemesis, made with red pepper, sun-dried tomato, onion and fresh-roasted garlic, is by far the most popular pizza on the menu, according to Miner. The runner-up is the Spinach Special, made with spinach, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. It’s tough for them to decide what their favorite pizza is, but Miner prefers The Great Alternative made with egg, sausage, bacon, onion and red pepper.
Each deep dish pizza takes 30 to 45 minutes to prepare. Hooker suggests a “Fabulous Ferndale” salad during the wait. The Artsy Artichoke Salad is made with artichoke hearts, roasted sweet peppers, mushrooms, asparagus and fresh tomato with fresh spinach. “If you like artichokes and you like what’s in it, I guarantee it’s the best salad you’ve ever eaten,” he says. Other unique selections are the Salmon Paradise, Bougie Shrimp and Kinky Kalamari salads.
“Our food is so filling that very few people eat dessert. But for those who do, we have vegan ice cream and homemade bread pudding. People will come in just for that,” says Miner.
Miner and Hooker offer freshly squeezed lemonade, iced tea and Chazzano coffee, a local favorite that they brew tableside with a French press. A liquor license is a possibility in the future – if and when they come up with $30,000.
“It’s a struggle sometimes, but we can survive anything,” says Miner. He and Hooker spend 90 hours a week there to ensure their business runs as they intend. “We have to be here. We have one shot to represent ourselves. We have high standards when it comes to great customer service and product.”
Interaction with the customers is just as important to Hooker. “Maybe 50 percent of the people who come in will stop and poke their head in the kitchen window to say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye.’ I believe they appreciate how much we care and how much pride we have,” says Hooker. “One of the things that people tell us and we know ourselves is that everything we put out is better than good.”
255 West Nine Mile Road
Ferndale, MI 48220
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday,
noon-7 p.m. Sunday