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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Eyes on the Fries

G.D. Ritzy’s celebrates 40 years of food and philanthropy

A family business through and through, G.D. Ritzy’s signature thin-patty burgers, shoestring fries, and ice cream have made it legions of fans over the last 40 years.

It was well-known local restaurateur Andy Guagenti who snatched up the national franchise and brought it to Green River Road in December 1983. G.D. Ritzy’s existed in several cities and states then, and it quickly became a hit locally. Guagenti soon expanded to the city’s North and West sides.

G.D. Ritzy’s presence across multiple cities and states dwindled over time, but at the five area shops that remain — three in Evansville and two in Owensboro, Kentucky — the Ritzy’s name is as enticing as ever.

Chad Grunow

Chili and a peanut butter (emphasis on the peanuts) and strawberry jelly sandwich are other menu staples, and a longstanding Ritzy’s tradition is free ice cream for A’s on a child’s report card. Ritzy’s ice creams are made at its West Side shop, and patrons dig into their meals in throwback dining rooms accompanied by tunes from the 1950s.

“We have not changed a thing,” third-generation owner Chad Grunow says. “It’s exactly the way that it was, with a few additions like the chicken salad and chicken tenders. But as far as the burgers, fries, and ice cream, it’s all still the same recipe.”

Guagenti — who helmed well-known Evansville restaurants Farmer’s Daughter, Burger Farm, Sir Beef, and Andy’s Steak N Barrel — died in 2017 after co-owning the business with his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Dan Grunow. Chad, who is Karen and Dan’s son, joined his parents in ownership following his grandfather’s passing.

G.D. Ritzy’s doesn’t just take food seriously — the company also has a commitment to philanthropy that’s deeply personal.

Chad’s brother, Jacob, has Down syndrome. Inspired by Jacob, Guagenti in 2004 opened Jacob’s Village in Evansville, a neighborhood community where adults with functional disabilities can find housing, activities, and programs to increase independent living skills.

About 30 people live at Jacob’s Village, off IN-66 on Evansville’s far West Side. Jacob Grunow also was assisted in his youth by Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, and G.D. Ritzy’s is the longtime title sponsor of Fantasy of Lights each winter at Garvin Park, which in 30 years has raised more than $4.5 million.

Grunow says that after 40 years, he and his family will continue to satisfy Evansville residents’ cravings while also sharing their success.

“We’ve been very successful because of the community, and we want to give back to that community,” he says.

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