AMERICAN FALLS — After months of waiting, American Falls residents flocked to the newest restaurant in town to try a comfort food that the owners felt was a needed staple for the area — piping hot pizza.
The Dam Pizza Place, which opened Aug. 23 and moved into the building that used to house Pizza Hut before it closed last year, saw a busy and successful first week despite a few bumps in the road, said owner Melinda Michaelson.
“It’s been amazing,” said Michaelson, who co-owns several eateries and bars in town with her husband, Ron. “We couldn’t have asked for better support. ... We’ve had some mess-ups but everyone has been so patient, and we couldn’t have been more humbled. It’s been amazing.”
The couple have owned the burger and shake joint, the Falls Grill & Chill, for five years and the Rock Bottom Bar for seven years, but when Pizza Hut closed its doors last fall and the building sat vacant, the Michaelsons decided that pizza was a food item that the town couldn’t be without.
“Obviously we’re huge fans of pizza and we just felt that in our small town we just needed another choice ... and pizza is always a go-to,” she said. “It’s something you can take home, something you can order — we’ll have delivery eventually but that won’t be for a while — and other people felt the same way, so we thought, ‘Let’s open it up.’”
The Dam Pizza Place pays respect to the history of the American Falls Dam, which was built in 1978 and has been an iconic feature of the town ever since. The Michaelsons, who acquired the building in March, had the interior of the building stripped down to concrete and studs, renovated it, gave it a fresh look and added new framed photos that show the details of the city’s dam.
The restaurant also pays homage to the area and its agricultural roots through its menu selection, with many landmarks of the city referenced through the names of each meal item.
Whether it be The Grain Elevator — a pizza dish served with white garlic sauce, Philly steak meat, mozzarella cheese and vegetables — or The Lava — a unique dish topped with enchilada sauce, refried beans, taco meat, tortilla strips and more — the menu offers a selection of dishes dubbed with a name that is both familiar and fun while also satisfying taste buds with bursts of flavor.
This themed naming also reflects in the restaurant’s name.
“It’s funny because there’s so much history that revolves around the dam here,” Michaelson said. “So when you actually go into the building we’ve created a little picture setting of how they moved the city, how they built the dam, so on and so forth. And so we were trying to think of how to spruce it up a little bit and we thought, ‘Oh, let’s do things around the river,’ and so we came up with the names like The Grain Elevator or The Dam or The Power House and it was fun.”
Michaelson explained that although they have now opened, they are still striving to improve services and expand what they offer. They plan to serve sub sandwiches, but because of a mix-up in equipment that was delivered, they have not been able to offer this yet. She also explained they hope to one day offer delivery, but that will be down the road once they get all their employees trained and get a firm handle on smoothing out bumps that arise from opening a pizzeria.
Yet that hasn’t stopped them from trying to hone what they do offer, which is pizza that is made fresh every day, with homemade crust and homemade sauce. They also have a cauliflower crust option for customers who’d prefer gluten-free pizza.
Michaelson said that the support from the community has been overwhelming, and they appreciate all the patience they’ve received while getting the new pizzeria up and running.
“The patience of everybody has been amazing and we just appreciate it so much,” she said. “We hope everyone likes the pizza and keeps coming back.”
The Dam Pizza Place is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is located at 2840 Pocatello Ave.