SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Dean Lambrecht was 18 years old when he told his parents he was going to drop out of engineering school and open a pizza parlor.
"Never made a pizza in my life," said Lambrecht, now 69. He laughed and added, "My pizzas weren't very good."
Dino's Pizza has been at 19 S. Milwaukee St. in Plymouth since June 11, 1962. From the outside, it looks like an old house with the word "Dino's" hanging over the doorway. If you walk up the porch stairs and enter through the sliding glass door, it doesn't look like much of the inside has changed since '62. From the mid-1900s cash register that can only ring up $10 at a time, to the same pizza oven that operated in Dino's kitchen on day one, it's like taking a step back in time.
"No credit cards. No debit cards," said Lambrecht, referring to the old cash register. "Just cash, check or a good IOU or a handshake."
Over the past 51 years, Lambrecht's pizza has gone from "not very good" to being considered some of the best that the Midwest has to offer. In 1988, Dino's Pizza was named the best out of a survey of 12 states by Midwest Living magazine, even beating the popular Gino's Pizza in Chicago.
"They slowly got better and better and better," Lambrecht said of his pizzas. "Eventually, it wasn't too bad."
Dino's Pizza features a menu that has changed drastically in product and price over the past 51 years. Early on, hamburgers were 35 cents and a small pizza went for 90 cents. Thirsty customers could get a soda for a nickel. But some things never change. Dino's continues to give kids free ice cream and licorice while they wait for a pizza, making them a city favorite amongst the younger crowd, as long as they follow one simple rule from Lambrecht.
"No cursing," he said. "Bad language, we would kick them out for that."
The current menu features the same pizza, but he's gotten rid of the burgers and serves sub sandwiches instead. According to Lambrecht, Dino's Pizza was the first restaurant in Plymouth to have submarine sandwiches, and he still serves them to this day.
Over the years, Lambrecht has considered expanding to different locations including California, Australia, England and China, but he opted to stay in Plymouth where it all started.
"I had a chance for some big stuff, and I tell you, I got a little nervous," Lambrecht said. "Because if I lost, I lost everything. I've stuck 50 years in this joint. One mistake and I would've been done."
Apparently, Plymouth would be sad to see Lambrecht and his pizza go. In spring, when a motorbike was up for sale in front of Dino's Pizza, the locals thought that Lambrecht was selling his business. The reaction just showed the love that the people have for the rustic restaurant.
"They said 'Dean! Where are you going?' and I said 'I ain't going nowhere!'" Lambrecht said. "My friend just moved his bike and left the 'For Sale' sign out front."
Wayne Beisser, 69, has been coming to Dino's for the last three or four years and keeps returning for the simplicity of the famous pizza.
"I like their small pizza, their pepperoni and sausage, and I like how the crust comes out brown and thin," he said. "It's the best pizza in town."
But Lambrecht has a different theory regarding the reasons people keep coming back.
"My dad used to say this: You can buy a beer anywhere, but they're gonna go buy a beer where they like the bartender," he said. "So if you're a person that's liked, they're gonna come down by you. No matter what. And of course, this is a one-of-a-kind taste."
After 51 years in the business, Lambrecht doesn't see himself leaving Dino's Pizza while he still has the ability to work.