Pat Gazzola loved three families: his family, his Arkansas Razorback family and his Catfish Hole family.
Gazzola died Aug. 5 at Willard Walker Hospice Home in Fayetteville. He was 68.
A lawyer by education — he earned a bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Arkansas — Gazzola is perhaps better known as a Fayetteville restaurant owner. He and his wife, Janie, bought the original Catfish Hole on Highway 71 just north of Alma in 1993. They eventually opened another location on Wedington Road west of Interstate 49 in Fayetteville, less than five miles from the UA campus.
It was the place to be for Hog fans before, during and after games. The restaurant has even been introduced to a national TV audience on ESPN through “Taste of the Town,” a segment shown during the network’s Saturday night college football broadcasts.
And there was perhaps no bigger Razorback fan than Gazzola. Bobby Petrino held his weekly football coaches radio show at the restaurant. Bret Bielema does the same now, and the coach even spoke at Gazzola’s memorial service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Aug. 9.
Gazzola, you may not know, also envisioned a Catfish Hole location in Benton County. He and Janie bought some land in December 2010 on Winsted Lane in Bentonville. The property is in the Rainbow Junction commercial subdivision, just south of the perpetually clogged intersection of Southwest Regional Airport and South Walton boulevards.
“You don’t pay $500,000 for a piece of land just to let it sit there,” Gazzola told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal in October 2011, confirming his interest in building a restaurant. The land purchase, however, did not coincide with prosperous times in the catfish industry, primarily a scarcity of catfish for restaurant owners, which meant higher prices for consumers.
At the time, Gazzola said he thought he might make a go of a Bentonville location sometime in the spring of 2013.
Just about every parcel in the Rainbow Junction addition has changed ownership in the last seven years. But the 1.7-acre site owned by the Gazzolas is still that. And if their vision of a Bentonville restaurant never materializes, the land Gazzola paid $500,000 for almost seven years ago is now worth nearly $1 million, according to the most recent appraisal.