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COLUMN: What do you get when you combine a white elephant with a deep-dish pizza?

Dick Nichols' monthly column Business Beat
Dick Nichols 0020

Every once in a while, my wife and I want to go out for lunch but can’t agree on the type of cuisine we want.  

Well now there are a couple of places in Okotoks that solve that problem very nicely.  

I’m speaking of course of the White Elephant Thai and the Windy City Pizza, two restaurants that share the same space in the Southbank Boulevard shopping area just south of Costco. 

Neither is a franchise. The White Elephant is owned by Nika and Kevin O’Donovan, who also have restaurants in Calgary and Chestermere. Windy City Pizza is owned by Dan and Leann Katz, who are venturing into the restaurant business for the first time.  

Leann manages both restaurants, and is the chef at Windy City Pizza.  

“It all started because my husband Dan’s love of cooking is a longstanding passion, even though he’s made his career in the automotive business,” Leann said. “Dan was with Kevin and Nika when they looked at this space for The White Elephant. Kevin said, ‘you’ve always wanted to have a restaurant, why not here? There’s lots of room!’”  

Pizza and Thai: it’s an odd combination that works remarkably well.  

Thai cuisine is increasingly popular because of its distinctive spices and unique blend of flavours. For example, did you know that Thai cuisine uses at least three different types of basil? I didn’t even know there was more than one type! 

Windy City’s deep-dish pizza is also unique.  

The dough is molded to the deep-dish pie plate, Chicago style. The cheese goes on next, then the toppings, and finally Dan’s homemade marinara sauce covers it all. That’s exactly the opposite of how you’d normally build a pizza. 

“Deep-dish pizzas take from 35 to 45 minutes to cook,” Leann said. “You want the cheese to be like molten lava when you cut into it. We ask our guests to call and order it about an hour before they come to eat it here or take it home.” 

And yes, there are times when a couple comes in and one of them orders from the Windy City side and the other from the Thai side.  

“That happens quite often,” said Leann.  

Approaching their first anniversary, business is really starting to pick up. I noticed the “Now Hiring” sign on the door and asked Leann what jobs she had available. “We’re looking for a part-time cook to help make our deep-dish pizzas, and hostesses to serve our eat-in guests,” she replied. 

Starting as a part-time employee at a local business can be a good way for a young person to try out a possible career choice. That’s another reason why small businesses are so important to the economy. 

“I had a gentleman work here for about six months,” Leann said. “He was thinking about becoming a graphic designer, but I think he’s going to go into culinary arts now.”