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8 Questions for Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau (aka Dimo): Out-of-the-box pizza creator, Iowa native, socially conscious entrepreneur

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If you frequent Chicago’s bar scene, chances are you’ve walked, ran or stumbled to Dimo’s Pizza at some point. Or perhaps their famous mac n’ cheese pizza has long been a staple of your weekly late night diet. But did you know that Dimo is Jewish?

Iowa native Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau brought Madison Wisconsin’s famous Ian’s Pizza to Chicago about five years ago, much to the delight of Badger alumni and everyone on Clark Street (and just recently at Six Corners!) looking for a quick slice. The restaurant specializes in radical toppings, adapting every comfort food you can imagine to fit on a large, flat and crispy crust, or as Dimo says, “we’ve always seen pizza as a delivery vehicle for the best foods imaginable.”

So why change to Dimo’s? If you were confused by last year’s name change, be assured that it’s the same company, same people and same pizza. Syrkin-Nikolau explains:

“I felt a disconnect was growing between what Ian's stood for and what I stood for.  I'd opened Ian's in Chicago as a local and independent business and operated it as such for the period of four years. Ultimately, that freedom provided us with the opportunity to do everything that we saw fit to best serve those who entered our doors. I choose to retain that freedom and in doing so was forced to rebrand as Dimo's.”

But Dimo’s is more than a name, and Syrkin-Nikolau aims to do more than satisfy people’s cravings. He is equally as passionate about the community role that local business can play in making a difference. So whether you’re hungry for cheesy potato pizza or social change, Dimo is A Jew You Should Know.

1. You have quite the last name. What’s the story there?

Syrkin is my mother's middle name and my grandmother's maiden name ... still with me? I've come to this name via a man named Nachman Syrkin, an eccentric fellow known for—amongst other things—being one of the founders of Labour Zionism. He dedicated his life in an all-consuming manner to developing this theory and doing all that he could to propagate it throughout the Jewish sphere.  So I suppose, my mother, being the feminist that she is, decided that if she didn't pass Syrkin onward (My grandmother had no brothers), the name would die in this lineage. My father is 100% Greek and from him I received Nikolau.  I sometimes joke that he's lucky to have gotten anything into my name at all. 

2. What is the best pizza you’ve ever created (in your opinion) and why?

We made a pizzaa couple months back that has roasted poblano peppers, grilled shrimp, pineapple and pico de gallo. That slice was absolutely incredible! With pizza, it's always the balance of the flavors in combination with the perfect distribution upon a crust that is content to sit at the bottom and out of the way, but still be able to deliver a crunch with every bite.

3. Dimo’s is known for appealing to the late-night crowd. What’s the weirdest/funniest story you can tell us?

We certainly are a popular late night destination given our location within Wrigleyville. One time, years ago, I took a delivery to a woman who tried to pay in sticks of Trident gum. I had to figure that out. Another time, after we were closed, a guy came to the door begging for pizza. He looked desperate and instead of turning him away, I went to the door. He said his wife was pregnant and in labor and wanted a Mac N' Cheese pizza after she delivered their baby. I smiled, let him in and made the pie.  We took a photo on the way out. A few years later, in he walked and we got to reminisce about the night. Apparently it won him big points and I was happy to be able to make it happen for him. I wonder what they named the kid...

4. Owning a pizza place in Chicago is like selling candy in Candyland. You make it look easy, but describe the work that it takes to succeed.

Well I think that depends upon what you think the relationship is between candy and Candyland. The simple answer is that success must be your only option. When you want success as much as you want to breathe, you'll be successful. I know that sounds like a cop-out answer because it doesn't describe the work that it takes to succeed, but that is because success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  

5. Dimo’s is really community oriented. Why do you feel it’s important to go beyond making good pizza?

Well, generally speaking, my philosophy revolves around the idea that if you make a product that people absolutely love and provide an experience that is so personal you develop relationships (not that kind) with your customers, you're going to make money.  And it's what you do with that money that matters. I think we're at the beginning of a huge movement going on to start to operate for-profit businesses with for-profit efficiencies but with non-profit goals. You see this increasingly with social enterprise, Internet startups, and more and more in the small business world. I just recently visited plantchicago.org. They're a great example of a company that realizes that there’s a way to make money, make a living, and contribute to the betterment of society. I think if we do it on a large enough scale, I think it's something that can be used to help solve many of the problems our society faces today. 

6. What do you love most about what you do?

It's new every day!

7. In an alternate universe where you couldn’t be a food service entrepreneur, what would you do?

Who says I'm not? Less importantly, who says I'm a food service entrepreneur?  I just happen to be selling pizza. It could be widgets. Make the best possible product, make an incredible experience and I mean magnitudes above the rest, use those profits for the things you truly believe in and what's the difference does it make what business you're in?  Does that answer the question?

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago (and why)?

That's easy. I eat!  Favorite quick deli is The Bagel. I've been there enough times for them to know me by name.

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