The american dream is still all-powerful. It’s what propelled the owners of new Pizzeria Lola, Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, to quit their jobs in the height of the Great Recession and gamble everything on a shoestring pizza operation, complete with tomato-can lights. A generation earlier, this same American Dream compelled Kim’s family to flee Korea for Apple Valley, Minnesota, with nothing but young children, an elderly grandmother, and a belief that with enough minimum-wage jobs and religious faith, they could make a better life. Then, Kim got accepted at Columbia University and headed to New York to study law—the dream! There was just one problem: After working at a law firm, Kim developed a powerful interest in acting. So, she returned to Minneapolis to work at the Children’s Theater Company—notably as Dorcas, one of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters, in a fat-suit and a big nose. ¶ Kim’s theater career carried her to the day when her business partner and great love, Conrad Leifur—another Ivy leaguer, a Yale grad, and former hedge-fund manager—decided that their American dream involved mozzarella. Trips to New Haven and New York, to check out Yale’s and Columbia’s favorite pizzerias, and San Francisco, to attend a pizza-making school, followed. Ta-da!—Pizzeria Lola is now packed to the rafters every night with foodies ooh-ing and ah-ing over every bite. ¶ The crust is incredibly dimensional—bready, smoky, sweet, light, and deep. The toppings are equally great: various, deeply considered, and delicious. The Sunnyside, for instance, with its silky, salty La Quercia Guianciale; creamed leeks; and a barely-set egg is something the world dearly needed but never knew it: a quivering pasta carbonara, in the form of a well-charred pizza. The Ma Sha-Roni, a classic red-sauce pizza topped with house-made Berkshire pork and old-fashioned rustic pepperoni, is exactly what a pizza is supposed to be: the one food that, when paired with a glass of wine or a beer, can disappear the wounds of everyday life—the parking tickets, the lost umbrellas, the time you called your current wife by your ex-wife’s name.
And let’s not forget the salads: the racy Caesar and the mixed greens with rich beet and hazelnuts are everyday perfect. Is that why patrons cram into the restaurant, tweeting, chirping, and crying out in delight? Yes.
There’s been just one hiccup to date: Kim’s mom. “I didn’t tell her I quit my job,” says Kim. “My parents didn’t come to this country to work as janitors so their children could work in restaurants. But my sister brought her one afternoon, and I met her outside: ‘Hey, Mom, welcome to my restaurant!’ She was shocked and surprised and ultimately really proud. Now she calls me every day and tells me she’s praying for me and saying a rosary for the business. She lived through war. She’s always known struggle. But she sees now that careers and success can take many forms.” Just like the American dream.
Another national-class pizzeria, only this time with a local bent. If you’re a Punch, Nea, or Black Sheep fanatic, you must factor Lola into your calculations.
Ideal Meal: Caesar or beet salad and pizza—Margarita if you’re a classicist, the Iowan if you’re a foodie locavore. Tip: Try the soft-serve with olive oil and fleur de sel. It’s plain, but great. Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. most days; 11 p.m. Friday–Saturday; closed Mondays. Prices: Pizzas cost $8 to $15 Address: Pizzeria Lola, 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com