A couple of weeks ago, when I reviewed Big Bill's New York Pizza, I also made a trip to Lil' Ricci's at 5332 DTC Boulevard, a link in the local chain of pizzerias where Bill Ficke got his start before opening his own Lil' Ricci's outpost, which eventually became Big Bill's.
"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.
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"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."