DiCarlo’s Pizza Coming to Gay Street

Owners Kaz and Michelle Kaczmarek Outside the Future Home of Di Carlo's Pizz, 524 South Gay Street, Knoxville, May 2023
Owners Kaz and Michele Kaczmarek Outside the Future Home of DiCarlo’s Pizza, 524 South Gay Street, Knoxville, May 2023

Knoxville’s first location of DiCarlo’s Pizza is planned for 524 S. Gay Street, the previous location for Kopita (now across the street at 507 S. Gay Street). Owners Kaz and Michele Kaczmarek bring the Ohio Valley Style pizza to the city with the first franchise granted in the state. Not simply franchise to the couple, it represents “home” in the form of the pizza they ate at one of the early DiCarlo’s Pizza shops in Steubenville, Ohio. The company, formed in 1945 by the DiCarlo family, continues to be owned and operated by their grandchildren, nearly eighty years later.

Michele and Kaz grew up in Weirton, WV, though he was born in nearby Steubenville, Ohio, where they knew each other as a part of a larger group of siblings and friends.  Weirton Steel’s manufacturing plant was the primary employer. They attended Madonna Catholic High School there and continued as friends in a larger group, skiing, going to parties, and sometimes traveling to Pittsburgh.

Kaz attended Penn State where he got a degree in electrical engineering, doing a co-op with the mill in their hometown. “I had a love-hate relationship with the mill. Everyone was there and they expected you to go back there.” He returned after college, working at the mill, while attending graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He was offered an internship with Intel that required him to move to Arizona and quit his job, to the chagrin of his family, to move there. They offered him a job that summer. He returned to West Virginia long enough to finish his degree in Operations Management and Entrepreneurship and moved to Arizona in 1998.

Michele attended Gannon University in Erie, PA, where she obtained her BSN. Her parents had moved to Indiana, and she lived with them for about a year while taking her nursing boards. She returned to Erie, passed her boards, and worked as a nurse for two years. The two remained in long-distance contact, seeing each other occasionally. After a visit to Arizona with a group, she made the decision to join him in Arizona, in 2001, continuing her career as a nurse.

The two married and ultimately had six children who currently range from nine-years-old to twenty-one. In 2010, wanting to be near family, they moved to Columbus, Ohio where Kaz worked remotely for Intel. Michele set herself to caring for the children full-time. By 2016 his company wanted him to move back to Arizona, so he exited that job, leaving the company after twenty years. He searched for work for two years and Michele returned to work. They would remain in Columbus until 2018 when Knoxville, Tennessee became the family’s next stop.

He interviewed for a job with a tech company in the area. It went well, but the process took several months. During that time one of their daughters had a diving competition at UT in Knoxville, necessitating a return trip. He soon had a job offer which he accepted. The family moved to Knoxville, and he continues to work for the company.

They found a place that felt like home. The topography resembles their home in West Virginia. They also said the people remind them of home. The family settled in a bit before the pandemic and fell into a routine. Michele herded the children to various activities while Kaz worked at his new job. “We’ve come to really love Knoxville,” Michele said. Kaz said they saw the Knoxville area as temporary at first, but now feel it will be their forever home.

The urge to open a franchise of DiCarlo’s Pizza went all the way back to their time in Arizona when they missed the comforts of home. Once back in Ohio, the two continued to ponder the possibility, but not as intensely. Once in Knoxville, Kaz knew that was something he wanted, and Michele was ready. “I think we’re ready for our next adventure,” Michele said.

They reached out to the company but didn’t hear back initially. On a return trip to Columbus in 2018, Kaz went to the DiCarlo’s location near their old house and asked the lady behind the counter if she knew who he might talk to about franchising. She said, “Yeah, me. I’m the owner.” It was Anna DiCarlo, head of the DiCarlo family. They started talking and as she began to understand that he had loved their pizza his whole life, she warmed up and the train toward a franchise began moving.

Originally, they thought they might open a location in West Knoxville first, followed by a downtown location sometime later. When David DiCarlo came to Knoxville to investigate possible sites, he fell in love with downtown and said the restaurant needed to be on Gay Street, with a west location to possibly follow. He said, however, that it could be no larger than 700 square feet. Their model had been mostly to serve take-out pizzas. When he saw the space at 524, which has more than twice that much space, he relented, determining that it was perfect for their first sit-down location.

The store will have the franchise’s classic colors, black and white, with splashes of red. Subway tiles and stainless counters give the restaurants a clean line look they are known for. The (very large) mixer which will mix the dough fresh each day will be painted red. The cheese will be shredded freshly each day, as well.

Making Ohio Valley Style Pizza (from the Di Carlo’s Website)

So, what is “Ohio Valley Style Pizza?” The diagram I’m including here does a better job of explaining it than I might. A medium crust, square pizza is partially baked with a layer of tomato sauce and another layer is added half-way through before completing the baking process. The dough recipe is the original family recipe which started even earlier than 1945, in the family’s Italian bakery. Once out of the oven, provolone (not mozzarella) cheese is added, followed by a layer of fresh pepperoni (or other toppings) and then another layer of cheese, which does a “slow melt.” The crust should crunch with every bite and the couple insist the cooked combined with the fresh makes for the best pizza ever.

There will be a take-and-bake option if you’d like to make your pizza at home, but they are happy to make it in their oven for you to carry home or enjoy on premise. They will have about 35 – 45 seats inside and on the patios (there is one in front and off the rear of the space). Soft drinks and beer will be available, and wine is a possibility. It may not be available initially.

They hope to employ “ten-to-fifteen” people and would like to hear from anyone interested via email at dicarlospizza.knx@icloud.com. Interviews will be held a couple of weeks or so in advance of opening. Kaz and Michele hope to welcome their first customers in early summer.