When Carol Himmel and her sister Diana Himmel-Krewer assumed ownership of Pizza D.O.C. (2251 W. Lawrence Ave.) four years ago after running a catering business, they had to re-imagine their dreams of owning a restaurant.
“We always knew we would run a restaurant together, but we thought it would be German!” said Carol. On the cusp of celebrating their anniversary, the two sisters took a break in their busy schedules to give Center Square Journal a history lesson and explain why their restaurant is more than just a business to them.
The restaurant originally opened in 1999 with the first wood-burning pizza oven in the city and soon became a popular neighborhood destination. The sisters took a chance in 2007 when the restaurant was for sale, and despite their lack of experience with Italian cuisine, they tackled the challenge of running a business in a struggling economy with gusto. Their determination, love of food, seemingly endless supply of energy and genuinely warm welcome has seen them through some tough times, and created a small legion of fans.
A big factor in their success is family. Their father built and helped install the new bar that features authentic German glasses and a beer tapper from Hofbräu, and three of Diana’s children work in the restaurant. “This is the best thing that could have happened to us. The restaurant brought us together and now we can see each other all the time” said Diana.
They credit their mother with teaching them how to cook, “not from recipes, but from experience” explained Carol. This disciplined approach helped when they first started the catering business. When I ignorantly asked why there was no bacon in the German potato salad, Carol politely corrected me. “This is real potato salad from Bavaria. This is exactly how my mother made it.”
Their parents emigrated in 1958 from Germany to make some money and then return to their Bavarian homeland. But after establishing a successful auto body repair business and ties to the community they decided to stay.
A hint of their past can be found by looking up in the restaurant. The exposed ductwork was custom painted at the auto body shop to match the décor. But their vision for the business includes more than just a makeover.
The siblings are livening things up by hosting open mike nights on Thursdays and live music on Fridays. The Lenten Friday fish fry special ($12.99 for cod and perch or $15.99 for the “fisherman’s platter” that includes shrimp, scallops) will be extended due to customer demand. You can catch Chef Carol on the WGN mid-day news on Tuesday, April 12 when she demonstrates how to make the Lenten fish fry and German potato salad.
The changes also include a redesigned website and embracing social media tools to help the restaurant attract patrons. You can become a fan of the restaurant on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter to learn more about their specials and events. This summer they plan to take part in the Farmers’ Market again and Carol would like to start offering specials during the week based on seasonal produce.
Incidentally, the letters D.O.C. stand for ”Denominazione di Origine Controllata” — an Italian quality assurance label for food products and wines. I can’t think of an equivalent phrase in German, but everything the sisters do from choosing ingredients, planning menus, hosting parties and participating in community events demonstrates that they have embraced the philosophy behind the saying.
The Italian restaurant with German flair now strikes a balance between date-night-destination and the place you can take your extended family and appease them all. They will be celebrating their fourth anniversary throughout the month of May with $4 drink and appetizer specials. Carol also noted (with a wink) that Diana will be celebrating a significant birthday next month. Be sure to stop by and congratulate them on their success. I’m confident you too will feel like you are part of the extended Pizza D.O.C. family.