Last updated on August 1st, 2022 at 04:08 pm
A new pizzeria has replaced Harry’s Diner at Interstate in Sheboygan, after the challenges of COVID-19 prompted owners to take the longtime restaurant in a different direction.
Harry’s Pizza Market opened its doors July 6 at Interstate Plaza along State Highway 42, just east of Interstate 43.
The 3,000-square-foot restaurant space had been home to the 1950s-style American diner for the past two decades, but after a three-month renovation project and investing thousands of dollars in new equipment, owners husband-and-wife team Avni ‘Al’ and Laurie Latifi have reopened it as the first certified Roman pizza al taglio restaurant in Wisconsin.
Rome’s famous pizza al taglio is known for its light, airy and cavernous crust, made from dough that rests and ferments for up to 96 hours prior to baking. The pizza is baked three times in high heat and served as rectangular slices cut by a specific style of kitchen scissors– hence the name ‘al taglio,’ meaning ‘by the cut.’ Pizza al taglio is not to be confused with Neapolitan pizza, which originates from Naples.
Al and his brother Harry Latifi currently own two other Sheboygan restaurants, Harry’s Diner and Harry’s Prohibition Bistro, which specializes in Neapolitan pizza. The Latifis have worked in the restaurant industry since moving to the U.S. from former Yugoslavia in 1985.
Plans for the family’s newest pizzeria concept began to take shape in summer 2019 when Al and his nephew Adrian Latifi both earned pizza al taglio accreditations from the Roman Pizza Academy in Miami.
In December, after installing a new $18,000 electric pizza oven at Harry’s Prohibition Bistro, the Latifis introduced the Roman-style pizza to the local market, serving it Tuesday nights only.
“Immediately it was a hit,” said Al Latifi. “People would line up on those days… it would fill up like a Saturday night.”
Responding to high demand, the operators rolled out plans for a pizza al taglio restaurant, what would have been their fourth concept in the area, and began searching for a location.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing the restaurant industry into survival mode.
Latifi described sitting in the empty Harry’s Diner at Interstate, looking at all the tables with no diners. He said it was a sad sight, but “we could always make it better.” After talking to his wife and brother, they decided the diner would be the location of Harry’s Pizza Market. Renovations began the next week.
The project cost nearly $200,000, including the necessary equipment to make and serve certified Roman pizza al taglio. The restaurant’s Italian-made electric oven, alone, cost $20,000, with delivery and installation, he said.
The pandemic created some delays with shipments of equipment and ingredients coming from Italy, but three months later, Harry’s Pizza Market is up and running, said Latifi.
It serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, offering dine-in, carry-out and delivery. In addition to a variety of of Roman-style pizzas, the menu includes traditional Italian appetizers, soups, salads, and all-day fish fry on Fridays.
Pizzas are also sold ready-made, or ‘You Heat, You Eat,’ for $10 each.
“People can come in, grab a pizza on the way home from work, put it into the oven for three minutes, and boom, you got a pizza coming out of your home oven almost as good as coming out of our oven here,” said Latifi.
Local and Italian grocery products, including pasta, sauces and signature desserts like house-made tiramisu and peanut butter panna cotta, as well as chef-selected wines are available for purchase.
Despite the current hardship restaurants face in light COVID-19, Latifi said he’s confident in his family’s newest concept.
“With any business, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it, there’s always risks,” he said. “The people of Sheboygan really do love us, they always have followed us. They know when we open up a place or serve a new style of food, they know that we’ve done our research correctly and that we deliver.”