At La Roma, the menu hasn’t changed much through the years, in part because the unique combination of Italian pizza and Mediterranean dishes is what keeps customers coming back. The RJ is another unique pizza that combines Lebanese heritage with the traditional Italian-American cheese pie. Think tabouli, just the right thickness of cheese and homemade pizza dough. Customers have been raving about it ever since it was added to the menu. Lasagna and cabbage rolls are patron favorites; in fact, the cabbage rolls hold their own in a way that might surprise you if you haven’t tasted them yet at La Roma. And for dessert, La Roma’s baklava rivals any found at any other establishment in Tulsa, and that is saying something.
Katia Azar, owner of La Roma Pizza, loves what she does and what she does loves her back. “We create relationships with our customers and our employees,” she says. “It’s not just an exchange of food and money. The customers want to see us. We love them and they love us. That’s what makes La Roma rich. Everyone knows our names and we know theirs.”
Azar’s restaurant is an oldie-but-goodie kind of place where generations of customers have made memories for decades.
Since the mid-80s, Azar, along with her mother Souhaila, has ruled the kitchen at La Roma, constantly making sure that every meal served is the best ever. The menu hasn’t changed much through the years, in part because the unique combination of Italian pizza and Mediterranean dishes is what keeps customers coming back. Primarily measuring the ingredients by sight, the way most great cooks do, Azar says she can’t assure the food tastes exactly the same every time, but she does promise it will always taste great.
“We want to impress people,” Azar says, with a twinkle in her eyes. “We’re cooking for our family and we want to make them happy.”
Although it may not be on the menu, ordering a mana’eesh pizza is becoming more popular with customers. Thyme, oregano, olive oil, sesame seeds and, knowing Katia, other secret ingredients uniquely La Roma are perfectly mixed together to provide a delicious Mediterranean pizza that Tulsans can only get at this 61st and Sheridan pizzeria. The RJ, named after Azar’s late father, is another unique pizza that combines Azar’s Lebanese heritage with the traditional Italian-American cheese pie. Think tabouli, just the right thickness of cheese and homemade pizza dough. Customers have been raving about it ever since it was added to the menu.
Lasagna and cabbage rolls are patron favorites; in fact, the cabbage rolls hold their own in a way that might surprise you if you haven’t tasted them yet at La Roma. And for dessert, La Roma’s baklava rivals any found at any other establishment in Tulsa, and that is saying something. The lentil soup is one dish that Azar is always extremely excited to make, a slightly different recipe from her mother Souhaila’s, but one she is proud of nonetheless.
The year 2016 was a strange year for the restaurant when, in September, a pickup truck plowed into the storefront. No one was injured, but the restaurant had to be closed for repairs.
“When the accident happened, we were in complete shock,” Azar explains, looking around at the newly decorated dining room. “We thought that maybe after a week or so, we’d reopen. We told customers we’d be open soon, but the damage was too great. Sixty-nine days later, we finally reopened.”
For most restaurants, in today’s down economy, being out of commission for even a week would be the kiss of death. But in their 28th year, La Roma’s customers refused to let that happen. When the restaurant reopened last November, it was like a reunion of the cast of Cheers.
“We were shocked how many people came back and didn’t forget about us. They want us to succeed,” says Azar. “That was one of those things, you know. You’re losing business, and people make new habits and new routines. I didn’t want to be insecure, but I was afraid people wouldn’t make it back. But they did. They were interested about the new decorations and everything and how we were doing.”
As if on cue, while Azar was talking, customers entered the restaurant and volunteered to make statements about how wonderful a cook Azar is, and how much they love La Roma.
“You know the second you open the door that you’ve come to the right place. Just the smell of it tells you that,” said one happy lady who recently hosted a wedding reception with catered food by La Roma.
Azar hates to repeat herself, but she says that her role as a master chef at La Roma isn’t about her; it’s about her family.
“It’s a family in there,” she says, pointing to the kitchen beyond the iconic green, red and white awning, one of the things not destroyed in the accident. “We’ve got pictures of our employees on the wall. They become family to us. When we say La Roma is a family restaurant, we mean much more than my mother, myself or my fiancé. It’s our friends, our workers. We are family. Sometimes when we think of how our hours are long [as restaurant owners], we forget about it when we see our family. It’s about love in the food, love in everything we do.”
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