At , it’s the pizza paddles that might catch your eye. Not the ones they use to make the food but the ones up on the wall with all the signatures. Lauren, Dawn, Brittany, Eric, Alex...the names go on.
The guy behind the counter knows them all.
“We treat these kids like our own. We really do,” said Marty Hilke, co-owner of the establishment. “We’re going to lose four this year, and that’s killing us.”
The restaurant will lose those employees to high school graduation. Each time it does, another paddle goes on the wall, as do more names. Though it hurts to lose them, Fox’s takes pride in seeing its employees move from high school to college.
“The one that has No. 1 on it is from the year we opened,” he said indicating one of the paddles, which are known in the business as peels. “The four names that are up there are four kids that were already in college. They just needed something to do that Christmas break.”
The “kids” are like family, and family is what it’s all about at Fox’s. Hilke owns the business with the other Hilkes: Neil, Don and Nancy.
It’s also about the food, of course. The Hilkes’ establishment is a franchise of a Pittsburgh-based chain. Family members even went to meet Mr. Fox in person. Marty said Fox told the group to try the pizza for themselves.
“He didn’t go with us. He said, ‘Go check it out on your own,’” Marty said. “Everyone was gung ho about it. We liked the product.”
So, in late 2004, Fox’s Pizza came to O’Fallon. The reception was positive, and the 1,400-square-foot location at 1120 Technology Drive did well for the first couple of years. Unfortunately, Marty said the recession saw some falloff in business.
He said that despite a great product, Fox’s isn’t as well known in the area as he’d like. Largely, the customer base consists of a combination of local residents, area businesses and travelers who come over from the nearby hotel.
The restaurant has retained its share of loyal customers.
“We have people who still come by from when we opened in December of 2004,” Marty said.
And the pizzeria has some innovative foods to bring them in. In addition to pizza and hoagies, Fox’s also offers signature dishes like stromboli, similar in some ways to a calzone.
“I call it an outside-in pizza,” said Marty. “Everything is on the inside, and it’s folded over.”
There’s also the “wedgie,” a wedge-shaped dish invented by Fox’s. It’s something like a sandwich but on a pizza crust rather than a bun.
Salads are original as well. Among the selections are a chicken fry and a steak fry salad.
“It’s basically a tossed salad, but in the case of the steak fry we heat up steak along with wedge fries,” he said.
French fries on a salad?
“They act kind of like croutons,” he said. “I know it sounds very different, but we sell a ton of those.”
Even the pizza has interesting variations. The taco pizza, for instance, has taco meat, nacho chips and cheddar finished with lettuce, tomato and taco sauce.
“It’s really good,” Marty said. “We have people just come here for the taco pizza.”
Interestingly, the variety disguises the relatively uncomplicated nature of Fox’s kitchen.
“It’s a simple operation,” Marty said. “Just about everything we use pizza-related goes on our sandwiches and vice-versa. Everything crosses over, so you don’t have a ton of products to make it work. Fox kept it really simple, and that makes us unique.”
Fox’s offers 18 toppings, including less conventional ones like steak and hot banana peppers, with a distinctive cheese that blends mozzarella and provolone. Marty said there is something of a debate among customers as to what the best part of the pizza is.
“You’ll have two people and one will say, ‘Man, I love the crust.’ and the other will say, ‘Oh, I love the sauce.’ It’s amazing how it works.”
Marty said Fox’s also helps bring in business by building customer loyalty with a rewards program.
“You give them a reason to come back,” he said. “Besides having the best pizza around, they get something else from the experience. We give back.”
Still, Marty said it’s about the kids too. He typically employs about 12 or 13, he said.
“The kids left behind think that’s pretty cool because their names are on the wall,” he said. “It also gives the other ones something to aspire to.”