You cannot separate climbing in the Red River Gorge from Miguel’s Pizza. It’s become the central camping and meeting place for climbing in the region and has slowly grown over the decades with one of the largest expansions happening during the 2018-2019 off-season.
Dario, son of the eponymous Miguel, sat down with Rock and Ice over a beer (which you can now buy with your pizza!) to tell us about the growth of Miguel’s over the years and the newest expansion.
“We started with almost nothing from ’83 to ’91,” said Dario. In 1993 they added an out-house and a shower, which was just a fence with a tarp around it. In the late 1990s they built a pavilion for people to gather and cook in. Then in the 2000s they added the bathroom and shower house, which was followed by the current pavilion where most campers gather to hang out and cook their own meals if they aren’t eating food from the restaurant.
As for the restaurant, it seemed like every year they were adding on another room to expand the kitchen and main building. “But we never had a bunch of money to really do it right,” said Dario. These small expansions were done piecemeal using whatever Miguel and Dario could find. When they were demolishing some of the old foundation as part of the current renovation, Dario said he found that some of the concrete was reinforced with old grill grates that his father had gotten from the junkyard!
Last year Miguel made the decision to make some major investments into the business because he is getting older and wanted to leave his kids, “with something that was solid so they didn’t have to deal with it in their near future.”
“We’ve used hearth ovens forever but because our production is so high, they’re hard to use. They put off a lot of heat and we were just dying in the kitchen,” said Dario. In search of a way to improve the speed at which they can serve customers, Miguel and Dario flew to Chicago with all of their own ingredients to test out a new revolving stone deck oven which they are now waiting to be delivered.
It was a big challenge to get most of the new construction done in the three months that Miguel’s is closed during the winter off-season. They wanted to do it right, to keep the feeling that it has had over the decades that keep climbers coming back year after year. And they seem to have achieved that.
When you arrive, you are still greeted with the same familiar bright yellow facade and the big hand-carved door done by Miguel himself. Even the front room and counter remains the same with hand-written menu boards and slips of paper where customers write down their custom pizza orders.
The main additions are a big expansion of the interior dining area and the kitchen, and a lower level lounge for the climbers and campers (which is still being finished up).
The staff love the new kitchen. Ben Rogers, who is on his third season working at Miguel’s, said, “It’s so much nicer working in the kitchen now. You can see everybody else!”
Climbers love the expanded dinning area and being able to eat breakfast in the heated room during the cold early spring months.
Dario concluded by saying, “I hope that our improvements make it better for the people that come here and enjoy our place. It’s truly done for them. This is kind of a dream come true for us.”
Miguel’s opened for the 2019 spring climbing season on March 1.