The Pioneer Rises Again
Eating pizza at Di’ Mark’s is like chewing your way through a slice, or slices, of edible art. Take the restaurant’s Mad Scramble, with overflowing toppings of Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, garlic, black and green olives, chicken and tomatoes resulting in a symphony of colors and flavors. And the crust, which is always crispy but never thin, breaks and sounds the way only great pizza dough can.
What millennials may not be aware of (but which their grandparents and parents will surely know), is that Di’ Mark’s Pizza has been around for quite a while now – for 60 years to be exact. And the pizza chain, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary this April, has been serving the same quality dishes that delighted its first patrons at its flagship branch along Menlo Road in Pasay City and made it a favorite place for a family meal or a cozy, romantic dinner for two.
According to Inaki Lamata, who runs the business together with his wife, Kimmie Assad-Lamata, the restaurant reached its golden period during the ‘60s to the ‘80s.
“We had about 10 branches during that period, some even outside Metro Manila, including Baguio, Olongapo and Pampanga. There was even a point when we franchised our brand, but we had a problem with a franchisee so we decided to stop the practice,” he said.
At that time, Di’ Mark’s became a must-try for several international artists who performed in Manila, starting with Paul Anka who visited the Philippines in 1961. A son of a former president who eventually became a senator would likewise call to have his favorite pizza and pasta delivered to his doorstep. In recent years, a former president and his sister, who is an actress, would also frequent Di’ Mark’s.
“There have been offers to buy us out, but there are a lot of emotional investments involved. This is no longer just about the money,” Lamata said.
Indeed, Di’ Mark’s has always been a family affair – starting from Kimmie’s grandparents, Arturo and Lita Fernandez, who opened the first branch with borrowed tables and chairs on April 1, 1957. The business was eventually handed down to their children (including Kimmie’s uncle, Marky, after whom the restaurant was named), and to their grandchildren.
There have been ups and downs along the way, mostly because of the unfair perception that Di’ Mark’s is an upscale restaurant for old people. But with the younger generation at the helm, Lamata said they are slowly overcoming that stereotype without sacrificing the taste, and more importantly, the principles that have made the restaurant stand the test of time.
“It remains a very rewarding business. And we believe there is a niche market for good, comfort food. Our customers would complain if we change the menu. In fact, the ‘youngest’ entry in our menu is already 30 years old,” he said.
And really, there is no reason to overhaul something for the sake of overhauling. A hip, young crowd would definitely enjoy good, homemade-quality food— and pizza and pasta at that—even if the recipe has already delighted Filipino taste buds for six decades now.
The restaurant’s expensive-sounding name is also the only thing near expensive in their menu.
Take the Big 22 pizza, which has, true to its name, 22 toppings. It is already the most ‘high-end’ pizza offered by Di’ Mark’s at only P315 for a regular-sized order (good for two persons) and P995 for a 17-inch party-sized order. Regular-sized Pizza Pro (homemade anchovies, mushroom and pepperoni) will set you back for only P195, while the Taco Pizza (chili beef, chopped onions, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and crispy lettuce) costs only P295.
“This is our magic formula and commitment: affordable price for quality food,” Lamata said. And that is a commitment that is good enough for another 60 years.
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