A young couple sat in the corner of the room, next to a vacant disc jockey booth, immersed in conversation as they wait for their dinner.
“I have to bake more bread,” the burly man with dreadlocks behind the counter said as he rushed from one end of the shop to the other. “This one’s on the house.”
Redballs Rock ‘ Roll Pizza owner David Vieira meticulously circled the perimeter of his Woodland Hills restaurant. The New York native glided between tables as he personally tends to patrons and pizza ovens.
While waiting for their wedges, a type of sandwich that derives its name from the wedge-shaped bread, the young couple next to the DJ booth glanced around at the walls covered in rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia from David’s personal collection.
From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, pictures of musicians plastered around the room and ceiling add a vintage vibe to the laid-back atmosphere. Autographed guitars, pictures of restaurant regulars and fliers from New York City clubs and bars cover up any remaining wall space. Drum snares hang from the ceiling, lighting up the room with energy-efficient bulbs.
During Thanksgiving 2004, David was discussing with a friend his frustration that there wasn’t a decent pizza restaurant in the area. He came up with the idea to open a neighborhood-style pizza joint, much like what he was used to in New York. Basing his business on the notion that there is no substitute for quality, he set out to feed the community, as well as bring it closer together.
“Some people say we have the best pizza in the world,” said David, as he spoke of customers who travel from San Diego and Cerritos to eat at Redballs.
“We like the food being good,” said David’s wife, Petra. “We eat here, too.”
At 2 p.m., Petra leaves to pick up the couple’s three daughters from school and bring them to the restaurant.
Petra and the girls help out around the shop, by cleaning counters and washing windows.
While there, 11-year-old Paloma Vieira strutted around in an all-white chef’s uniform, helping behind the counter by warming up slices in the oven.
“I hope I could be on ‘The Food Network,'” said Paloma, an aspiring chef.
She hopes to follow in the footsteps of her dad’s friend and Redballs’ menu contributor Danny Harold. Harold has appeared on the “The Food Network” six times, Paloma said.
Behind the DJ booth sat David’s youngest daughter Pascal, who goes by “Bob.” The eight-year-old, who goes to school and plays softball as a pitcher and catcher, said she helps out by cleaning tables and windows, but most of her time in the restaurant is spent sleeping, eating and going on the computer.
But eating pizza on a daily basis has its downsides. Bob said her mother reprimands her and her sisters with an unusual mode of punishment, which involves taking them to eat pizza when they misbehave.
When discussing her favorite musicians, Bob said she likes Elvis because of his hairstyle.
“I like that dude,” she added, pointing to a life-size poster of Jimi Hendrix on the wall.
Redballs Rock ‘ Roll Pizza is Vieira’s first restaurant venture. Petra said David used to sell Grateful Dead T-shirts and posters when he traveled with the rock band before marrying Petra in 1991. David had originally trained as a graphic artist, where he channeled his passion for clothing design, she said.
The couple then started their own boutique in London, naming it Redballs. They specialized in contemporary rock ‘n’ roll fashion, such as tight pants and leather collars.
The duo later moved to Los Angeles, where they launched another Redballs clothing store on Melrose Boulevard.
They relocated the boutique to a tiny strip mall on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, across from the Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park. Leasing the spot next door, which used to be a secondhand record store, the couple began the arduous task of obtaining the zoning permits that would allow them to convert the retail space into a restaurant. The two-year-long process ended with the grand opening of Rock ‘ Roll Pizza on Dec. 1, 2006.
The name Redballs Rock ‘ Roll Pizza was originated from a misinterpretation of the sign outside the shop. The clothing store, located to the left of the restaurant, had a sign reading Redballs. Next door, the sign read, Rock ‘ Roll Pizza. From a distance the sign appears to show, Redballs Rock ‘ Roll Pizza.
David said celebrity rockers, such as bassist Nikki Sixx from Motley Cr?e and guitar player Elliot Easton from The Cars, frequent the restaurant.
As the night drew on, Petra dined on pasta from the restaurant’s kitchen as she sat down to help her daughter with spelling homework.
Paloma, trying not to be distracted by her little sister Bob, jotted down vocabulary on a paper plate, which she said could be a problem because her teacher had “flipped out” the last time she turned in homework on disposable dinnerware.
Paloma also discussed an idea with her mom about selling pastries in the restaurant and donating the proceeds to Light the Night, a charitable annual event geared toward helping people diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma.
Cancer hit the Vieiras close to home when longtime family friend Leah Elbourn died of breast cancer last month at the age of 43. David said that Elbourn had worked for him for 20 years, and her death was hard on the family.
Elbourn had joined the Vieiras at last year’s Light the Night event, where cancer survivors and supporters walked around Woodland Hills Park to raise money for blood cancer awareness and research. Cancer survivors would carried illuminated white balloons, while supporters carried red ones.
Paloma drifted into recollection with a smile on her face as she recalled Elbourn carrying two white balloons last year because she had been diagnosed with cancer twice by that point.
Back at the restaurant, the Vieira family began preparing to close at 9 p.m. Bob was excited about performing on the upcoming weekend with a one-time Redballs regular customer, now live act, at the restaurant.
Monc, a musician from London who Petra compares to a young David Bowie mixed with Blur, performs with the Vieira girls in an act they call “Monc and the Mop Heads.”
The girls put mop heads over their hair to resemble dreadlocks, David said with pride.
David, who plays the guitar and piano and lists the Ramones and The Clash among his musical influences, slurped down one of his Italian Ices that he gets shipped in from Brooklyn, NY, as he was getting ready to head home.
It’s the third one he’s had that day, according to Bob, adding that standing in front of the oven makes her dad sweat off any extra pounds he might put on from eating while at work.
The young man and woman who sat next to the DJ booth are the last customers of the night.
Sigi Sandoval, a Canoga Park resident who used to frequent the restaurant, came to the register to pay his tab. He said that a previous cook who used to work at Redballs would make him uncomfortable because of his unfriendly attitude and habit of turning away customers a half-hour before closing.
Petra answered, in a cheerful and caring voice, that it wasn’t the first time she had gotten a complaint about that chef and that was the reason why he didn’t work there any longer.
“It’s the good food that brought us back,” Sandoval’s companion, Canoga Park resident Angelica Mancillas said.
Although David had told Sandoval that his wedge would be free because of the extended wait, Petra still calculated it in the total because she wasn’t aware that he promised the discount.
Sandoval paid the total without any protest and thanked her for the meal.
On the way out, Mancillas became interested in the Italian Ice and asked Petra to serve her some. When Petra asked Mancillas if she wanted to get a sample or try a whole one, Mancillas answered that she wanted a full serving- just as Petra began serving it anyway.
As Sandoval reached in his pocket to pay for it, Petra answered with a smile on her face. “It’s on the house.”
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