KALAMAZOO, MI – Forty-five years ago, two young couples, all best friends and recent graduates from the University of Illinois, had an idea.

They would move to Michigan, pick the perfect college town, and open a pizza place. Charlie and Lynne Konett, along with John and Debbie Hindman, decided that Kalamazoo was that town.

And that’s how Bilbo – named after the main character in JRR Tolkien’s 1937 novel “The Hobbit” – was created.

“Charlie, from when he was in high school, started reading The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and fell in love and I think he read it every year for a very long time, “said Lynne Konett. , 70 years of her late husband, who died in 2015 after a battle with cancer.

The restaurant, which at one point had four locations – three in Kalamazoo and one in East Lansing – pays homage to lovable hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards throughout its menu and in decorations placed throughout its only remaining location, at 3307 Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo.

The Mallorn Tree logo can be seen inside and outside the restaurant, which is a short drive from Western Michigan University campus and downtown, and patrons of the cozy hangout. de Bilbo can enjoy themed dishes such as Master Sam’s choice or Pip’s Pleasure sandwiches, or an Elven Favorite or Dragon Feast pizza.

And why not sprinkle it with a Dragon Red Ale, a Wizard Wheat or a Bilbo’s Light?

A Kalamazoo institution, the restaurant claims to be the first to bring pan-fried pizza to the immediate vicinity. And, with the recent closure of the Olde Peninsula Brew Pub, it is now the oldest brewery / restaurant in town.

Bilbo’s, which brews in small quantities, generally only offers a few beers on tap, but offers a few dozen beers of all kinds and for all palates in its bar.

After taking a short break during the pandemic, they recently started brewing again, Konett said, and last week they used their pumpkin lager – a seasonal crowd favorite.

The pizza, as well as Bilbo’s famous cheezy stix (don’t forget the dill sauce), can be made with white dough or homemade wheat. The pizza and dill sauce are also homemade, but don’t expect Konett or anyone else to tell you what’s in it, especially the dill.

“I’m not going to talk about the dill recipe,” she laughs. “The people who worked here and who left Bilbo swore to keep a secret never to talk about it. It’s just something that everyone loves.

“It’s not just a dive. It is an ingredient in its own right for some people.

Bilbo’s, for Konett, is more than dill sauce, pan-fried pizza, beers and magic.

It’s a family matter. His active business partner, John Hindman, turns 73 on October 16, and his wife Debbie Hindman, still Konett’s best friend, is as close as they can get, she said. The 10 children the two couples had at one time or another worked at one of the sites, as did two of the many grandchildren.

But Bilbo’s family extends far beyond surnames and lineages. This ripples through staff members and longtime loyal customers.

“The thing about this place is more people meet, fall in love, have, we call them, Bilbo babies,” she said. “It’s really a great story. A friendship for life. Just a bunch of kids who take a lot of risks and are smart. Charlie and John have always been very smart about the way they do business. “

The restaurant is open from noon to 9 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and from noon to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information or to place an order, call 269-382-5544 or visit bilbospizza.com.

Also on MLive:

Pumpkin picking, cider tasting, hot donuts and corn mazes to taste near Kalamazoo

Michigan’s Best Local Foods: Local artisan cider, farm-to-table fare in the heart of Texas Corners Brewing Co.

Citing a labor shortage, Fricano’s Kalamazoo County restaurant closes for remainder of 2021

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