Think of the best pizza you’ve ever had in your life. What lengths would you go to get it? For Genie Kwon and Tim Flores, the answer is 800 miles round trip. If they have a free couple of days and a strong enough craving, they’ll make an impromptu road trip from Chicago to Minneapolis for thin-crust pies at Pizzeria Lola.
“This is my favorite pizza in the country,” says Flores, who first visited the pizzeria in college. He describes the crust as a cross between Neapolitan and New York style: thin but not floppy, finished with toppings that range from classic pepperoni to kimchi and Korean sausage. To him and Kwon, the feast is well worth 12 hours in their Outback. Sampling food is serious business to the couple and also, literally, to their careers. Both are professional chefs based in Chicago.
Kwon and Flores first met over food. Kwon started as the pastry chef at a Chicago restaurant called Boka right before Flores, a savory chef, left Boka for a job at another restaurant, Senza. A year later, Kwon dined at Senza, and the two went from chatting to friendship to dating. They also discovered that they both love road trips. “Driving is when we sort out our ideas or issues that we have with particular techniques or processes” in the kitchen, says Kwon. “Sometimes food is the only thing that we talk about.”
In 2018, they pushed the trip odometer on their Outback to a new record: 11,000 miles driven that summer, zigzagging across the country to eat, drink and see friends. Their journey took them to Milwaukee, where they ate noodles at Red Light Ramen, and through Denver, where they ate a short rib sandwich at Mercantile Dining & Provision that was so good they changed their route home just to eat it again. Next, they stopped in Las Vegas for an important detour – the couple, who had been engaged for four months, decided to get married.
Finally, the two made it to Los Angeles, where they stayed for a month, weeks longer than planned. They had left their jobs in the spring to start the journey of opening a restaurant together and felt inspired by the city. As they caught up with friends, Flores tried surfing for the first time (he loved it despite getting “crushed”), and they ate at some more of their favorite spots: Proof Bakery for sandwiches and pastries, Leo’s Tacos Truck for tacos al pastor, Sun Nong Dan for galbi jjim, Park’s BBQ for Korean barbecue, and Gjusta for brunch.
Food may launch their trips, but there’s something bigger that keeps Kwon and Flores driving: friendship. Sharing so many great meals across the country with friends new and old is the key. “We’ve met so many people through those experiences,” Kwon says. “Restaurant owners and chefs and cooks, and it’s so awesome because that hospitality extends so far.” Of course, it goes both ways. The people they’ve met on the road “always know that when they come to Chicago, they’re welcome to stay with us and we’ll try and feed them as much as possible,” Kwon says. “We love taking care of people.”