Uncle Mike's Italian Cafe (new sign created by the Big Sandy High School Print Shop.) Courtesy photo

From The Journal, September 21, 2017, “Vehicle crashed into building in Winona:” … Owner of the restaurant, Mike Reusch, said that he and his wife were asleep in the building, and at about 3am, the car crashed into it, causing the fire. Reusch said that the couple had put all of their savings into their new and updated Italian restaurant and it was going to be a total loss.”

Michael and Shawnda Ruesch were realizing their dream of owning their own restaurant. They had acquired the old O’Dell’s building in Winona and began the cleanup and renovation in June. They were open for almost week before that horrible accident.

In the weeks that followed, while they were waiting for insurance money for their lost cars and were helped a great deal by the community. They still wanted to open their restaurant and had looked at one, but the deal fell through. “It would have been nice. It had the perfect setup for us, was already running and was an Italian restaurant. But it didn’t work out for us,” said Mike. “Then the present location came available, the owner wanted to sell and that’s what we were looking for.” Mike is aware that this location had been under several different managements but they have made the commitment to purchase and not lease. They know what they must do to overcome the history. They intend to build a good reputation with good food, good service, and “be open when we say we’ll be open!”

While this is their first restaurant, they know their way around a kitchen. Mike started cooking in high school…a vocational high school for culinary arts…learning from very good chefs. (One instructor had been trained at the Culinary Institute of America, the number one cooking school in the United States and was the Executive Chef at Caesar’s Palace. Another instructor was a retired United States Air Force chef who was on the Culinary Competition Team.) After high school, Mike joined the Air Force with the hopes of serving as a cook, but they decided he needed to be a firefighter – for ten years. This still worked out alright because firefighters love to cook! Mike says Shawnda is also an accomplished chef, loves to cook and bake and feed people! She made some amazing cupcakes for their Grand Opening! Their grown children, Jonathen, Samantha, and Anthony also work with them.

Uncle Mike’s Italian Café Grand Opening with Big Sandy Chamber of Commerce. Back row L-R: Travis Brewer and James Peterson; middle: Jackie Davis, Mayor Sonny Parsons, and Rick Peterson; front: George Strub, Shawnda and Michael Ruesch, and Chamber President Dwayne Canup. Photo by Linda Baggett

Here are just a few items on the menu…Love Me Knots and Forget Me Knots, build your own pasta and pizza, lasagna, Michael’s Angelo, and more! They’re working on other items…like chicken and eggplant parmesan, plus dishes with portabella mushrooms, shrimp, scallops, beef, and lobster sauce…OH MY! They also have American food and in addition to lunch and supper, they will be serving breakfast soon so watch their sign and The Journal for breakfast times. (The great sign out front was created by the new Print Shop at Big Sandy High School.)

Mike said they had not obtained building insurance before the fire, but have been blessed with the generosity of people in East Texas. While listening to Mike and Shawnda, I was struck by their optimism. You might say they will be a great addition to our community and will help folks in need because of the help they received. I think they will be a great addition to our community and help folks in need because that is just who they are…simply good people. Welcome to Big Sandy, Michael and Shawnda!