In April of 1966, Bob Fortel began his career in the restaurant business. He worked at “The Pizza Den” just down the street from his house at Mackenzie and Heege. He worked there through high school and college, then he decided to explore other options in food services. He continued working for other people until 1981, when he met his goal. On January 1, 1981, Bob bought the store at Mackenzie and Heege and named it “Fortel’s Pizza Den”.
It was a rough beginning, Bob and Jan Fortel kept their day jobs and ran the Affton, MO pizza restaurant at night. Their daughters, Shelly and Shannon, both too young to work, spent their time playing in and around the restaurant. At bedtime the girls went to the storage room where they had sleeping bags on the floor. To make things even tougher, they had a 40 minute commute from their home in St. Charles.
At age ten, Shelly began working, rolling dough every Friday night. Shannon joined her two years later. People always laughed at the two little dough girls, covered head to toe in flour.
In 1987, the family finally moved from St. Charles to Affton….just two minutes from the restaurant. The entire family began working a lot more hours because they were so close and business was booming. Then, in June 1988, Bob had a heart attack. Jan and the girls took control and ran the restaurant while Bob recovered. It was a difficult summer, but one that shaped the future.
1993 brought big changes as the restaurant underwent major remodeling and expansion. Having previously relied on carry out and delivery orders alone, the location doubled its square footage and added an 80 seat dining room.
In 1995, Shelly received her BS degree from Mizzou in Hotel/Restaurant Management and made the decision to return to St. Louis to work with Bob.
It was during 1997 that business really got crazy. Shannon Graduated from Barnes College of Nursing with her BSN in January. Bob and Shelly were working side by side and launched into radio advertising. The response was so overwhelming that in 1998 the family recorded its first TV commercial. Late in 1998, Shannon decided to pursue nursing full-time and left the family business, but not for long.
In August 1999, the first Fortel’s franchise opened in Kirkwood, Missouri. Due to the tremendous success in Kirkwood, the family continued to expand the business. We opened as far west as O’Fallon, MO, and further south than Affton to Arnold. At this time, Shannon had her first child and decided she needed more flexible hours and more time with the family, and Bob was in need of her help as the expansion continued. We went north to Florissant and Bridgeton and then, to Ballwin and Eureka.
On January 21, 2003, the Fortel family suffered a tremendous blow with the loss of Bob to a massive heart attack. But, the family felt we had to continue Bob’s dream. On May 13, 2003, we opened our new store in Affton, across the parking lot from the old location, with all new plumbing, electric, and a huge outdoor patio in what is now known as Fortel’s Plaza.
In December of 2003, we expanded to the Metro East and opened a location in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Since 2006, we have added stores in Creve Coeur and University City.
There is now a third generation of Fortel’s. Bob has four beautiful grandchildren. Hopefully, as they grow old enough, they will carry on Bob’s dream and the ‘best pizza’ in St. Louis for many years to come.