Call it a cheesy coincidence, but Dan Hawkins is thrilled to be opening his new pizzeria in the home of a former pie place.
Hawkins, co-owner of Shorty's, a New York-style pizzeria established in East Hamilton in 2018, will open his second location later this month where Winnipeg’s iconic Bella Vista restaurant once operated, at the corner of Maryland Street and Wolseley Avenue.
"It’s funny — we’ve been asked..., ‘Why Winnipeg?’ and our answer is always, 'Why not?'" he said.
Hawkins first came to Winnipeg from Ontario in January 2020 to take a break from work and see friends and family — "January in Winnipeg, that just screams a visit," he jokes. While his plan wasn’t to stay in Winnipeg, he found himself settling into the city, and began checking out the local real estate market.
When the former Bella Vista was put up for sale later in the year, he jumped at it.
"When this building became available — obviously the history, the location," he said. "At that point, I’d already decided I wanted to stay here long term, and that’s how it all happened. The stars aligned."
The former owners were interested in passing the torch to another restaurant owner, Hawkins said. Discovering the building’s decades-long history as a pizza spot solidified the decision, he added.
"Doing our due diligence, we sort of found out that this is a neighbourhood spot that’s dear to a lot of people’s hearts, a lot of memories here," Hawkins said. "And that’s the ethos of Shorty’s in Hamilton — we wanted to open a neighbourhood pizza spot where everyone in the neighbourhood, it’s their staple."
West Broadway Biz executive director Sara Atnikov said the addition to the neighbourhood is a welcome one.
"The BIZ is sad to see an institution like the Bella go, but we're excited that a new restaurant is opening up in West Broadway... and will be adding to the diverse food options in the neighbourhood," she said in an email.
While Hawkins acknowledges opening a restaurant is always a risk — especially during a pandemic — he believes the universal appeal of pizza will help the restaurant survive.
"The only thing that made sense (when opening a new restaurant) was you had to have a takeout- and delivery-type of food, so pizza fits that mould. It has to be something people can easily wrap their head around," he said. "Pizza — delicious. You’re not bringing anyone in and teaching them about a certain type of food, so to speak. So that takes some of the risk out of what you’re doing."
“We’ll take it one hour at a time, one day at a time.” ‐ Dan Hawkins, Shorty's owner
Opening day is tentatively set for the middle of the month, with June 15 as a possible date. Hawkins said an exact day hasn't been decided because of the pandemic, and the desire to open under the safest possible conditions.
"I’ve kind of found over the years, you have to sometimes roll with it, and it’ll all work out," said Hawkins, who has 15 years of experience in the food industry.
"We’ll take it one hour at a time, one day at a time."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.