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This article was published 11/10/2014 (2328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There were no "Going out of business" signs. No fond farewells or long, drawn-out goodbyes.

When Diana's Gourmet Pizzeria shut its doors last winter, customers were left scratching their heads, wondering where five-time Canadian pizza-baking champion Diana Coutu and her award-winning Moosehead beer crust had gone.

The restaurant is located at 730 St. Annes Rd.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The restaurant is located at 730 St. Annes Rd.

A few months later, people on Coutu's email list received a message from her that began with an inspirational quote: "When things fall apart, consider the possibility that life knocked it down on purpose. Not to bully you, or to punish you, but to prompt you to build something that better suits your personality and your purpose."

She went on to write it had been "a difficult year" but hoped "the worst is behind me." She saved the biggest clue for the postscript, when she signed off using her maiden name, Diana Cline.

"So you were able to figure that out, huh?" Cline says with a chuckle. "As the saying goes, 'S happens.' My husband and I weren't just life partners, we were business partners, too. So after our marriage fell apart, it was impossible to sustain the work relationship."

"As the saying goes, 'S happens.'" –Diana Cline

This week, timed for the kickoff of National Pizza Month, Cline celebrated the grand opening of her new venture, Diana's Cucina & Lounge. The 48-seat locale is situated in the same south Winnipeg strip mall as its predecessor at 780 St. Anne's Rd.

"When I closed, I did so knowing there was a great possibility I would never reopen," Cline says, brushing away a tear.

The menu includes many of Clines most popular pizzas.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The menu includes many of Clines most popular pizzas.

"I wrestled with the decision for a long time. My ex and I were together for 19-1/2 years, so there were a lot of memories and a lot of hard work and time spent building the brand. But I didn't want to spend the next few years fighting for something that wasn't going to exist the way it did originally."

-- -- --

Cline met her future husband in 1994. The two worked side-by-side at a big-name pizza-chain outlet in Charleswood, where they spent time talking about the day they would operate a pizzeria of their own, using only the finest ingredients.

They opened the original Diana's, a takeout-only location, on St. Mary's Road in 1998, the same year they got married. In the beginning, Cline was as much a teacher as a cook. Customers had a gazillion questions about dairy cheese and imitation cheese and why she used unbleached or whole wheat flour in her dough.

"Most people had never seen the words 'gourmet' and 'pizza' together. People thought we had to be ripping them off, because we were almost twice as expensive as everybody else -- and we weren't offering any of those two-for-one deals that were in vogue at the time."

Their big break came seven years later, when Cline entered a contest sponsored by Canadian Pizza magazine. In a bid to make her dough rise above the competition, she added Moosehead beer to her list of ingredients, simply because it was the only brew in the fridge at the time. On the weekend word of Cline's victory first made headlines, her staff had to take the restaurant's phones off the hook because the kitchen couldn't keep up with demand.

Diana's relocated to St. Anne's Road in 2006. The accolades followed. In 2007, Cline was the first Canadian chef to finish in the top four at a Pizza Festiva competition in Las Vegas. The following year, she travelled to the World Pizza Championship Games in Italy, where she tried her hand at events such as "acrobatic toss" and "largest stretch."

In 2013, two years after an informal, sit-down area was added to the location, Diana's Gourmet Pizzeria was featured on You Gotta Eat Here!, the Canuck equivalent of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. (Speaking of TV, there was also that night the Trailer Park Boys popped by for a bite. After the actors from the TV series heard there was a pie on Diana's menu called Ricky's Revenge, topped with chicken fingers, pepperoni and jalapeno peppers, they made a point of trying it out for themselves on their way through town.)

Diana's closed Feb. 28. On March 1, Cline had a decision to make: She couldn't afford to reopen on her own, but she had two young children to feed.

"I actually went for a couple of job interviews in fields totally unrelated to the service industry," Cline says. "I'd always been pretty good with people, so I thought community service work might be something I could try my hand at."

Cline was still weighing her job options in early April when she got a call from a pair of acquaintances who had a proposition for her: How would she like to partner with them and start a brand-new restaurant?

"I was like, 'OK, let's talk about it.' "

You might say Diana's Cucina & Lounge is a grown-up version of the original pizzeria. The menu still boasts many of Cline's greatest hits, such as Canada's 2006 pizza of the year (the BLT, featuring cheddar, mozzarella, capicolla, bacon and romaine) and the 2007 champ (ultimate pepperoni). Gone, however, is the pint-sized table in the corner where kids could roll some dough and play "chef" while their parents ate dinner.

"Liquor laws have also changed in the last year," Cline says. "If somebody wants to come in and have a beer or martini or glass of wine while they're watching the game, we no longer have to force food on them."

Since reopening, Cline has been visited by many of her old regulars -- a lot of whom teased her, saying if they'd known the previous entity was going to close, they'd have filled their freezers with their favourite pies in the days and weeks beforehand.

"And, of course, there are a lot of folks who had no clue we were even gone -- people who went to the lake for the summer and are now just getting back into the swing of things," Cline says. "They come in and say, 'So, what's new?' and I feel like answering, 'Uh, have you got all day?' "

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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