Carmen’s Pizza reopens after yearlong hiatus

Carmen’s Pizza is slowly picking up business after reopening its Evanston location in March.

The restaurant moved about one mile south from 1014 W. Church St. to 1241 Chicago Ave. earlier this year. Jose Venzor opened the the original Carmen’s in 1979 in honor of his wife.

He closed the pizzeria in January 2011 for eight months, later selling the establishment to its current owners: Efrain Lopez and brothers Placido Quintero and Rogelio Quintero.

Lopez also owns Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant & Bar, 817 University Place. The management at Las Palmas and Carmen’s have considered themselves “family” since 1986, when Las Palmas was located next to the original Carmen’s, Placido Quintero said.

Placido Quintero manages the staff at both Las Palmas and Carmen’s and another manager works at Carmen’s four days each week. He said he spends more time at Las Palmas and quickly noticed the difficulties of running both restaurants simultaneously.

“It’s very hard. We have to work extra hours,” he said. “But we took the opportunity because we have known Carmen’s for a long time.”

The restaurant renovated for six months before opening and currently offers booth and table seating. Several televisions hang from the beige walls, including one streaming sports at the large bar in the back. The menu remains the same except for a few additional appetizers. Rogelio Quintero, the cook at the original Carmen’s restaurant, continues to work at the new location. He makes fresh pizza sauce daily and has maintained ingredients from the original menu, Placido Quintero said.

Before Carmen’s officially reopened on Chicago Ave., pizzas were made for delivery in the Las Palmas kitchen from December 2011 to February 2012 during renovations. The owners redirected Carmen’s phone lines to Las Palmas due to continued demand for pizza, Placido Quintero said.

Still, Carmen’s lost many customers to other Evanston pizza restaurants before the Carmen’s reopening several months later, Placido Quintero said. He said the new Carmen’s is relying on name recognition for customers to return.

“We started picking up the business a little by a little every day, ” he said.

Martin Albarran, a Carmen’s server and former employee at Las Palmas, said Venzor was going to close the restaurant completely before selling it to the current three owners. Placido Quintero, however, explained Venzor sold Carmen’s in order to retire and “enjoy life” after the long hours of running Carmen’s.

“He told us he doesn’t want to work anymore. He’s tired,” he said.

Venzor returned to Evanston three weeks ago to check up on the new Carmen’s restaurant. But after staying for a few days, Venzor left for Mexico “for good,” Placido Quintero said.

Venzor could not be reached for comment. Evanston resident Bruce Gomez and his 13-year-old son Roman ate their first dinner at the new Carmen’s location Tuesday night. They used to dine at the original Carmen’s restaurant before its abrupt closure last year.

Gomez noted the increasing competition for pizza restaurants in Evanston, but said he appreciates Carmen’s half price pizzas, which are available Mondays and Tuesdays.

“Upon coming in here, that half price pizza sign was enticing,” he said.

Placido Quintero said local families like the Gomez family mainly dine at the restaurant. However, he said the restaurant is trying to attract Northwestern students to make the trek.

The restaurant moved one mile further south of campus when it opened on Chicago Ave. Placido Quintero said he hopes to reopen another location at Loyola University Chicago that closed last August.

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