A week or so ago, George and I drove 30 miles to have dinner and say a permanent goodbye to an old friend.
Although the friend was a restaurant, not a person, the farewell lay heavy on our hearts. And, our chat with the owner who is closing it down showed us that, if we had known, he could have been a friend, too.
Diggins Pizza Cafe and Fine Rock Shop in Kewaunee, Wis., served its last meals on Feb. 25. We found out about it by chance, when George saw the notice on the sign in front as he was driving home from a music gig in Chicago.
He called me as soon as he realized.
“Closed!” I wailed. “Oh no. How can that be?”
I realize not everyone goes into mourning when a restaurant closes–and goodness knows, pizza places abound.
But Diggins was special to us. Before we moved to Sturgeon Bay, when we were making weekend trips up here for music gigs, we nearly always stopped at Diggins for our noon meal on the way home. In fact, we timed it to be sure we’d hit Kewaunee as the restaurant opened.
Our wants were simple: a thin-crust pizza with pepperoni and fresh mushrooms. Sounds ordinary, I know. But those jars of secret red and green spices sitting tantalizingly in sight, specific contents a well-guarded secret, were guaranteed to make every pizza special. The menu featured other things, too, but somehow we never got around to trying them. The pizza was just too good.
When we couldn’t stop, George started his chant as soon as we saw the billboard heralding our approach.
“Oh Monica, Diggins,” he’d say, pathos dripping from every word, repeating them until I begged for mercy.
Our first stop was probably out of curiosity as much as anything else. Pizza and fine rocks? What a combination. On our last visit, we learned that the rocks were a hobby that Dave, the owner, began when his father first brought some home from his world travels. Garden glass, polished stones, incredibly interesting fossils, jewelry and loose beads, and other uncategorized items filled one corner of the restaurant. Things of beauty. Things to treasure.
Once we got inside, we discovered another reason to love the place: the wonderful view of Lake Michigan across green and gold
crop fields–and flocks of birds at the feeders just outside the window. We always took our cameras inside, and while we waited for the pizza to bake, we took photos to post online later.
Now, all that is over. We were there during the very last hour of the restaurant’s life, and Dave wandered among the tables, talking to customers. We asked him to sit and tell
us what had happened. Although it didn’t make us any less sad to lose the place, we were glad to hear that for Dave, it was a chance to move into a new career that he could do from any place in the world or right from home, at hours of his own choosing. It meant more time with his family. We couldn’t begrudge him that.
George thought he saw a bright spot in all this.
“So,” he said. “Are you going to finally tell me what’s in those spice jars?”
No way, Dave said, dashing George’s hopes, but laughing good-naturedly. He has hopes of selling the place, complete with the secret recipe.
We chatted a bit longer, and discovered that Dave is a person with the same kind of life philosophy that we have, a Christian who believes in letting God guide his life, who is satisfied with simple things–home, family, and “just enough” of the world’s goods. A comfortable man, gracious and easy with strangers, welcoming, warm. Unfortunately, we made his acquaintance just in time to say goodbye.
We took home a souvenir, though.
I bought a pair of polished ammonite fossil sections, each curled around like a single quote mark. Each time I look at them in my home, I told Dave, I’ll say a prayer for him, his wife Kayla, and their new adventure.
And of course, we’ll always carry the memory of special pizza, a beautiful view, and those much-anticipated lunchtime stops.