R: Pizza with a purpose drives chef-owner Mar Diego to sling balls of pizza dough while mentoring kids in their teens at-risk of drug abuse and trouble with the law. In November, 2014, she opened the pizza joint in a strip mall at the corner of Victory and Balboa Boulevards in Lake Balboa and called it Nicky's Pizza, the name of her partner's daughter. In January, 2015 she renamed it Dough Girl. Though the restaurant is not all vegan, there are multiple vegan offerings, making this a welcoming place for cruelty-free dining.
Z: Mar grew up in the projects in Pacoima and became a youth serving time in prison. She was determined to help other young people avoid her experience and develop skills that would give them fulfilling direction in their lives.
R: About 20 young people, age 14 to 21, work in different shifts at the restaurant under the guidance of Mar who has become their mentor, teacher, and parent, as well as their employer. Because of her past experience on the wrong side of the law, she knows how critical it is to offer counseling to troubled kids and give them a meaningful purpose and job skills.
Z: She provides love, and sometimes tough love, to help them through difficult times. "It's a process--the process is not short," she says. Some of the kids are homeless, and Mar is sometimes able to offer them shelter. She says, "Sometimes I am the only one that loves them."
R: Watching the kids work so efficiently and serve customers with a helpful, polite manner, one would never know these were teens struggling with challenging problems.
Z: The restaurant has a simple but hip vibe and is decorated with huge black, graffiti-style letters hand-painted on one wall that say "EVERYTHING WE DOUGH WE DOUGH IT BIG!" The letters on the door read, "Step into the dough." Inside are two wooden community tables with black, molded, casual plastic chairs. Several smaller tables hover along the walls.
R: Pizzas come in two comfortable sizes--Selfie for $7 just right for one or two people and Big Dough for $14. Big Dough is an awesome18-inch pizza that can serve a whole family. A giant menu is posted on the wall listing seven impressively innovative pizza varieties, leaving plenty of room for a jillion added toppings at fifty cents each.
Z: We chose a vegan Selfie pizza with two kinds of Daiya cheese, mozzarella and Pepper Jack, and added button mushrooms, bell peppers, caramelized onion, garlic, and olives. We also chose vegan pepperoni at $1.00 extra, bringing the total to $15.84 because of all the toppings we added. The pizza is a delightful New York style with a thin crust and puffy edges--a pizza that gives the toppings a chance to show off with perky sparkle.
R: The bonus for vegans is that Dough Girl offers 3 varieties of vegan cheese-- mozzarella, pepper-jack, and cheddar and 4 kinds of vegan meats-pepperoni, sausage, bacon, and chorizo. All the pizzas are served on pizza pans covered with parchment printed with The Daily Telegraph front page or a black and white checkerboard pattern.
Z: Vegans can have a ball customizing the pizza and even enjoy a salad with vegan Ranch or Dijon Mustard Lemon Vinaigrette dressing. A woman sharing our table ordered a gorgeous Roasted Vegetable Salad heaping with a variety of veggies over the colorful lettuces and topped with the Dijon Mustard Lemon Dressing. Salad choices include their House, Caprese Stack, Nutty, Roasted Veg, and Guac, each unique in its composition.
R: The night we came, the place was buzzing with diners, so we could feast on the sight of a mob of colorful pizzas delivered sizzling hot from the open kitchen. The aromas were pure nirvana!
Z: Though we asked for water, we could have had a tall, quart-size Mason jar of homemade lemonade, a specialty of the house. Customers following a gluten-free diet could order a gluten-free crust in the Selfie size for $2 extra. Clearly, there's something for everyone's pleasure at this lively eatery that is often a comfortable teen hang-out during the afternoon.
R: So how did Mar develop her impressive skills as a pizza maven and salad chef? Following her prison term, she became a student at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and Pasadena and honed her skills at top-rated restaurants throughout Europe and the U.S.
Z: Rather than working as executive chef in Europe, she chose to take her grandmother's advice and apply her culinary skills to helping her home community. Now she reaps rewards daily as she watches her many "children" learn new skills and develop an attitude of hope for their future. Mar sees Dough Girl as the first of a chain of pizza shops in every "hood." In the building process is a Dough Girl in San Fernando, with future locations in Compton, Whittier, and South Los Angeles.
R: Dough Girl's pizza with a purpose is so much more than merely something to eat--it's a homey refuge, a place to learn life skills, a place to experience love, and always a place to ravish a piece of delicious pizza. Parking at the small strip mall is limited.
Reviewed February 2018