By: JOY ANGELICA SUBIDO
MAY 3, 2007
Four-year- old Lucas Gimenez likes lots of ham and cheese in his pizza. To make sure that he gets exactly what he wants, he heads towards the Di’ Mark’s kitchen where he confidently assembles his pizza for the day. “No onions,” he vehemently states, pushing aside a bowl containing slices of the strongly aromatic, bulbous vegetable aside. Lucas concentrates on heaping more meat and cheese toppings on the tomato sauce covered pizza dough, making the rich concoction appear even more appetizing. For this preschooler, making pizza is both a fun-filled activity and serious play. As a fourth generation pizza maker, he embodies the future of the family-owned Di’ Mark’s chain of pizza restaurants.
“I can really remember how old was when I started playing around and making pizza, but I was also really young,” says Lucas’ mom Kristine Gimenez. She recalls that the commissary for the restaurants was always located in the house, and the children were encouraged to make their own pizzas. Since learning pizza making was considered play and the children were never forced or required to work in the restaurants, hanging out volunteering to work in Di’ Mark’s was always a happy endeavor that they always enjoyed. And thus, Kristine encourages her son to have fun in the Di’ Mark’s kitchen nowadays.
The family’s tradition of making pizza started when Kristine’s grandparents. Arturo Fernandez was an American soldier deployed to the Philippines in World War II. He fell in love and married Lita Gonzales, a Spanish-Filipino mestiza. In the 1950s, they moved to New York and lived in the Italian side of Brooklyn. It was there where they learned to make pizza from their neighbors. Arturo would manually knead the pizza dough while Lita simmered the rich, thick tomato sauce that was flavored with spices. Their daughter Nina Fernandez Assad who is Kristine’s mom writes, “One of my fondest childhood memories is waking up on a Saturday morning to the smell of fresh pizza baking in the oven. It was a special treat for us: pizza for breakfast! The wonderful small of pizza coming from the kitchen would draw many of the neighborhood children to play in our yard. Mom’s hospitality allowed each child to sample her pizza pie. Needless to say, we were quite popular on Saturdays.”
The family moved back to the Philippines in 1956, and the first Di’ Mark’s Pizza Garden opened on April 1, 1957. The restaurant named after Marky, the youngest Fernandez son and the garden of the family’s Menlo Road, Pasay City home was where the first outlet was built. Although initially furnished with borrowed tables and chairs, the restaurant soon attracted an enthusiastic and loyal following.
“ A lot of people tell me, ‘We had happy memories in Di’ Mark’s “ smiles Kristine who is actively involved in running the restaurants. Di’ Mark’s was a pioneer in the pizza restaurant business and remains a favorite place for either family meals, or cozy, romantic dinners for two.
What is the secret of Di’ Mark’s longevity in the fickle food business?
“ We make everything form scratch,” Kristine shares. For instance, the Italian sausages that are a vital component of the Don Arturo pizza are homemade. And although the flavors of the original Di’ Mark’s pizza combinations like Menlo Special (mozzarella, native cheese and grated cheese), Don Arturo (Italian sausage meat, mushrooms and green peppers) or Pizza Pro (homemade anchovy, mushrooms, pepperoni) have not changed throughout the years, there are delicious additions to the menu. For instance, health-conscious pizza lovers can enjoy the vegetarian or roasted garlic and shrimp pizzas. The menu has likewise been expanded to include appetizers and soups, pasta, sandwiches and hearty main dishes like bistecca alla Paulina (slices of beef simmered in special sauce), chicken cutlet parmesan (P345), tenderloin tips (P410) and others. If the dinner can still manage dessert, there is Mama’s cheesecake (P120), chocolate icebox fudge (P120), and strawberry shortcake (P180). Still, the main attraction of the restaurant is the pizza.
However, one can have many favorites. Although Lucas Gimenez had his first taste of pizza when he was 10 months old and he continues to love pizza, eats it at least three times a week in fact, his current favorite is the bistecca. Like his mom Kristine when she was a child, he is currently enjoying the experience of being a part of the Di’ Mark’s tradition.