"Bill bought the other partners out within the first year," says Pete Tutrone, who oversees pie-making at Big Bill's.
For years, there were rumors of behind-the-scenes tension, with some members of the Big Bill's staff hinting that Lil' Ricci's stole the garlic-knot recipe. But Rich Heinisch, founder and owner of Lil' Ricci's New York Pizzerias, tells a different story.
"I trained Bill and recruited Pete Tutrone," says Heinisch. "Big Bill's was a Lil' Ricci's when it opened. The idea that I, the proprietor, stole anything is ridiculous."
Ficke was a longtime customer of Lil' Ricci's before going into the pizza business. And one day, Heinisch remembers, after large shoe-store chains had started moving into Denver, Ficke approached him and said, "I'm sick of smelling feet. I want to smell pizza."
Heinisch agreed to train him, and helped him open a Lil' Ricci's -- the start of the chain -- in the County Line strip mall. And when Ficke decided to go his own way, Heinisch says he was supportive: "Bill was like a big brother to me. I let him keep the name Lil' Ricci's and the menu as the pizzeria changed over."
Lil' Ricci's has continued to grow -- there are now six locations -- and there are no hard feelings between him and Ficke, Heinisch insists. "I'm happy for my old friend," he says. "I just want the truth to be known."