Deep dish

Guy Quenneville browses for business news.

A long-running, family-owned pizza joint that closed shop five years ago is proving that blood is thicker than pizza sauce. Dimitri’s Pizza, at 6469 Chebucto (453-5333), will return for business at the end of January in its same location, but in a new building (the old one was demolished). The original Dimitri’s Pizza, which originally opened in 1987, shut its doors in 2002. Youngest son Paul Chehade grew up in the restaurant, which was operated by his parents. Paul says the store originally closed for a number of reasons, including his father George’s health problems—George required hip-replacement—as well as Paul and his brother Peter’s decision to pursue other career opportunities. But two hip replacement surgeries and several seasons of construction work later, George, Paul and Peter are back at it again, serving up many of their own original recipes. Paul says the restaurant’s reopening was meant to be. “We’re coming back to continue a chapter that hasn’t really closed,” says Paul. “I was raised in the store and worked there most of my life. I started helping with preparations and making pizza boxes when I was 11.” Customer demand also played a hand in the reopening—“A lot of friends and loyal customers have dropped by, out of the blue, asking if the restaurant will reopen,” says Paul. While the restaurant will not be opening for breakfast right away (as it used to), Paul promises the same Dimitri’s vibe and food will remain, along with a larger eating area. “Food is a passion for my family. My brothers and I put our heads together and decided to give back not only to the community but to our family.”

Another (pizza) bun in the oven

In other pizza news, Alexandra’s Pizza, which has been serving its own kind of dish for 16 years, is adding another location to its roster, making it one of the fastest growing pizza chains in the area. Dimitri Neonakis, owner and operator of Alexandra’s, says the new location at 73 Sackville Drive (869-5050) came down to simple customer demand. “It’s funny,” says Neonakis. “I had no intention to expand when I began this business on Queen Street until I noticed customers from other areas coming in, and the name becoming more familiar. We’re a family-oriented pizza store, so I always pick family-minded managers to run the stores. I think that’s why we’ve grown so much.” The franchise now includes locations in Clayton Park, Fairview and Cole Harbour, with another one in the works for Highfield Park. With more stores comes a concerted effort to continually improve his customer service, says Neonakis. The Sackville location is meant to be as equally comfortable for people eating in or simply picking up a take-out order. “I knew we would get a lot of pick-ups, and I consciously tried to avoid making my customers sit on a hard chair while they wait for their pizza. So there’s several nice leather couches where they can sit and wait, and some magazines they can read.”

Book it

After years of selling books online, Brian Purdy decided it was time to make a permanent home for his bookstore, Back Alley Books, located at 2179 Gottingen in the basement of Bob and Lori’s Food Emporium. “I rent the space from the restaurant, and I devote a small part of my apartment to the bookstore,” says Purdy, who is the son of the late, Governor General Award-winning Canadian poet Al Purdy. “I called it Back Alley Books partly because I like the alliteration but also because it conveys the non-glamour aspect of the bookshop.” Purdy says that while his bookstore is more oriented toward collectors, his selection of books is more interesting than valuable. So what kind of stuff are you likely to find at his bookstore? “A more recent book I sold was a 1968 Buffy St. Marie songbook. I’ve also got a signed copy of Mordecai Richler’s Jacob Two-two and the Hooded Fang, a popular Canadian children’s book that started a whole generation of writers writing kid’s books.” Purdy says he’s also a big collector of pulpy paperback originals from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and says he wouldn’t locate his store anywhere but the north end. “It’s a lovely area. Lots of young people, arts-oriented and funky people. There’s always lots of music happening in the area. It’s not downtown, yet it is downtown.” You can reach Back Alley Books at 405-6528.

Bag it

Lezlie Oler figures she has the best job in the world. How many other people get to scour trade shows and specialty stores for just the right item to include in a gift basket? Together with her business partner Pamela Piers, Oler runs It’s a Wrap, a service that assembles items to create sleek, contemporary gift baskets. The business grew out of Oler’s love of collecting rare and interesting items. Such as? “A $20 leather case for contact lenses,” she says. “We specialize in things that are stylish. Beautiful travel accessories—like a stainless steel backscratcher—interesting crystal. Things you can’t necessarily find in just any store.” Oler says people have been so impressed by her interesting collection of items and furniture that the business is moving into interior decorating. “Pamela and I have both done a lot of interior design work. People are always commenting on how good our respective places look. So it seemed like a natural expansion for us.” It’s a Wrap runs by private appointments only. To call the service, dial 423-8031.

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