Family and tradition remain at the heart of Ruggero's kitchen

FLINT, Michigan — Robert Walker has cooked in Ruggero’s kitchen so long that he remembers responding to a classified ad in the newspaper for the position. That was almost thirty years ago when the Italian restaurant served pies on the northwest side of Flint. 

Walker has worked at all the Ruggero’s locations since 1985, including at the old Windmill Place, and has played an integral role in diversifying the menu, including homemade potato leaf soup. 

“They come all the way from Traverse City for that! They have to call before they come,” boasts Walker about the popular vegetable dish Ruggero’s new owners created while whipping up a bowl for me. 

Since then, the establishment has changed locations a few times. But, to longtime staff members, nothing’s altered regarding “quality of the food” and a “family atmosphere.” Even their customer base has remained the same through generations. 

All meals are still “made in-house,” a tradition that makes Ruggero’s “standout from other local Italian restaurants,” according to Lead Manager Staci Huddleston. That includes their core favorites of pizza, lasagna, and sauces. In addition, the restaurant’s new barbeque menu, courtesy of their attached sports bar Vic’s Pit Stop, has helped boost business and cater to the evolving Flint demographic. 

Since its introduction, the barbeque has increased Ruggero’s business almost “threefold” in the opinion of some kitchen staff employees. 

“We can’t keep up. We have a combo with brisket and ribs, so [customers] get that family pack!” - Pizza chef Anthony Holmes “We can’t keep up,” states pizza chef Anthony Holmes when asked how much the new grilled dishes have attracted new customers. “We have a combo with brisket and ribs, so [customers] get that family pack!” 

Although Ruggero remains popular for their authentic Italian pizza, the ‘Pit Stop’ orders are going “neck and neck,” according to Holmes. With that observation, Holmes and Walker believe that the refreshed menu items fulfill a long-awaited desire by some employees and patrons to add new dishes. 

Holmes began his career with the restaurant at the age of fifteen. The now 38-year-old veteran cook explained that “my cousin got me in. And everyone who works here is connected to a family member so I spend more time with [Ruggero’s staff] than I do with my own family. I think it’s better that way because we already [know] what kind of employee we’re getting.”   

The restaurant recently added Huddleston’s second oldest son to the group. Following in her footsteps, the young Ruggero’s employee is starting as a server and may take over mom’s position one day. 

“We all start and begin with the memories,” Holmes smiled as he reflected on the camaraderie he’s formed with fellow employees through the years. 

It may be some miles away from where it first began in Flint, but Ruggero’s is still close to the appetites of many residents. 

Anyone can travel to the restaurant’s newest location at 5311 Corunna Rd. in Flint. For more information, visit ruggerosflint.com.

Read more articles by Omoro Collins.