The image of Richie's kisser is a coded (and hilarious) reference to a new enterprise by Ann Kim, co-owner of Pizzeria Lola (5557 Xerxes Av. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, www.pizzerialola.com).
She's calling it Hello Pizza, although the name didn't spring from Richie's chart-topping single, "Hello," one of the 1980s' most durable earworms. It originated from a brainstorm involving communal tables and Minnesotans with personal space issues, and a way to get around the disconnect between the two; namely, a pile of those "Hello, My Name Is" stickers and a handful of Sharpies. Heh.
"It's all in the spirit of having a great time, because when you're eating pizza, you're usually sharing it," Kim said. "It's a party. Besides, Hello Pizza has a nice ring to it, and it's an easy thing to say when you're answering the phone."
At first, Kim wasn't thinking "second restaurant." The spot (3904 Sunnyside Av.), next door to the landmark Convention Grill, originally caught her eye as a possible commissary for the space-crunched Pizzeria Lola.
"But then I thought, 'Why not open another pizza shop?'" she said with a laugh.
Don't expect a Lola retread, however. Kim's not interested.
"I've had strangers come up to me and say they want to invest in a chain of Pizzeria Lolas, but that's not the vision I have," she said. "You do that and you start to lose what made you special in the first place."
In other words, forget about a wood-fired oven and table service. Instead, Kim is modeling Hello Pizza on the classic East Coast pizzeria, with uncomplicated 16- to 18-inch pizzas, sold at a counter. Slices, too.
"You don't see too many slice shops in the Twin Cities, and that's something I definitely miss from college," said Kim. "Back then, slices were my sustenance."
There will be some back-and-forth between the two shops. Expect to see Pizzeria Lola's house-made fennel sausage and bacon on Hello Pizza pizzas, and Lola will also supply its sublime meatballs (for a hoagie) and signature vanilla soft-serve ice cream.
Kim considers the new place an opportunity to continue tapping into her obsession with the limitless world of pizza dough (she's toying with the idea of a "deep-dish Monday," for example) particularly following a recent refresher course with her mentor, San Francisco pizza guru Tony Gemignani.
"People think of pizza as lowbrow fast food, but Tony treats it as highbrow," Kim said. "He has given me a real appreciation of the craft of making really great pizza. It's not like I'm doing anything innovative and new. People have been putting crap on breads for hundreds of thousands of years. But hopefully I'm taking a food that people already love and making them fall in love all over again."
Ann Arbor, Mich., architect Ralph Nelson, who gave Lola its distinctive look, is also designing Hello Pizza. Kim is aiming at an early January opening.
In the meantime, she has also been consulting on Vero, a pizza-panini outpost at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that's on its way to opening in late October.
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