Some owners consider their restaurants their children. But Patricia Ashman is working her way toward having as many restaurants as children.
The Turlock native’s new spot, Willie’s Pizza & Wings, is named after her son. Her first restaurant, Lulu’s Ice Cream Parlor & Treatery, was named after her eldest daughter, Louise. Now the two restaurants sit side-by-side in the same shopping center along East Canal Drive, steps from Turlock High School.
“I have a third child, my youngest Keisha. She’s the sweetest kid ever and one day (after I named the restaurant) she comes home and was like, ‘Willie’s? Really?’ ” Ashman said of her new spot.
Willie’s opened two weeks ago and has already been bringing hungry students and families in for scratch-made pizza, wings and more. The restaurant also gives Turlock’s sometimes forgotten east side another dining option as recently many new restaurants instead have opened by the bustling Monte Vista Crossings shopping center near the freeway.
But it’s exactly the East Canal neighborhood Ashman had in mind when she decided to open Willie’s. When her landlord told her he wanted to bringing a restaurant into the neighboring space to Lulu’s, she asked if she could be the one to open it. Around the start of the year, Ashman took over the space, which was formerly a Huntington Learning Center. It moved to a different spot in the same complex.
“When I decided to open, I thought, what does this neighborhood need?” she said.
The result is Willie’s, a pizza parlor custom-made for a hungry high school crowd and their families. The restaurant has tables and booths, big-screen TVs and video arcade games in the back. The space is about twice as large as Lulu’s next door, with room for about 100 people inside.
The menu complements, instead of competes, with Lulu’s. So don’t expect any sweets or desserts on the Willie’s menu. You also won’t find burgers or fries. But you can always pop one door down to get a hot fudge sundae or cheeseburger with fries and bring it in to Willie’s, and vice versa.
The pizza dough is made daily with the restaurant’s 950-pound cherry red mixer, which has been lovingly named “Caroline” and sits in the middle of the kitchen. The specialty pizzas are all named after Ashman’s friends and family and include the Willie’s Combo (pepperoni, housemade sausage, green peppers, onions, black olives), Granny’s garden (spinach, black olives, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, fresh tomatoes), and Louise’s Luau (pepperoni, pineapple, red onion).
“Every pizza tells a story,” said Amelia DePrimo, Ashman’s niece, who manages the restaurant. DePrimo’s partner, Brandon Wells, worked for a Bay Area pizzeria company for years and now serves as the Willie’s head chef.
But don’t worry, youngest Keisha isn’t being left out again — she has a calzone named after her. And for the truly adventurous eater there’s even “Simone’s Pickle Pie,” named after a close family friend who is a local preschool teacher, made with pickles, fresh dill and red onions on a creamy garlic sauce. Pizzas range from $16-$20 for a 12-inch to $25-$29 for a 16-inch. You can also buy it by the slice for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Still, the sign out front says “Pizza & Wings,” and wings there are, both bone-in and boneless varieties. Flavors range from traditional buffalo to honey habanero, coconut and a neon-orange cheddar BBQ, which resembles the world’s biggest Cheeto drizzled in barbecue sauce. The wings run $7.50 for five or $14 for 10.
The sleeper hit on the menu may be the loaded tater tots. Willie’s smothers them in marinara, mozzarella, pepperoni and black olives or covers them in barbecue chicken, cheddar cheese, green onions and ranch sauce. You can also get them plain — but come on.
When Lulu’s opened eight years ago, Ashman said, she wanted it to have the feel of the old Penguin Ice Cream Inc. in Turlock. She hopes Willie’s will become another classic spot for kids and families in Turlock. And who knows, maybe by the time her youngest Keisha, now 16, finishes up at Turlock High, there will be another restaurant for Ashman to name. But for now, two will do.
Willie’s Pizza & Wings, 2050 East Canal Drive in Turlock, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 209-667-9455 or visit williespizzawings.com.
Elsewhere around the Business Beat:
If you’re looking for Salida’s Sinaloense Mexican seafood truck, it has moved from its original location.
The truck, which draws its food inspiration from the coastal Mexican state of Sinaloa, opened last August along Salida Boulevard. But a fire at an adjacent building knocked out the truck’s power earlier this year.
So first-time restauranteurs Rhonda and Esdras Aldana partnered with the Salida Fire Protection District to move up Salida Boulevard to park in their lot. You can now find the Sinaloense at 4820 Salida Blvd. For more information, call 209-225-4084 or visit www.instagram.com/thesinaloensefoodtruck.