Anyone who visits the Little Classroom Café and Pizzeria not only experiences great food, but gets a little taste of Declo as well.
White ceramic plates with the names of every fourth-grader Richard Moncur taught at Declo Elementary decorate the wall. A living history from the late 70s and 80s, dozens of names are scrawled onto a wall reserved for old Declo High School sweethearts. Comment sheets from nostalgic visitors adorn the napkin dispensers.
For out-of-town visitors to Declo, happening upon the quaint firehouse-red Little Classroom Café and Pizzeria is like finding water in the desert. As far as eatery options in the small town of around 400 citizens, the offerings are slim. So it’s no wonder that in the past 30-plus years, the Little Classroom has become more than just a restaurant – it’s a community pillar.
Today, the Classroom is still owned by Richard and Cleone Moncur, who built it in 1979. Over the years, the menu – as well as the building – has expanded.
The Moncurs run their Dutch oven catering company, Let’s Go Dutch, out of the café while
their daughter and son-in-law, Monet and Dan Thomander, operate the café and pizzeria.
The pizzeria adventure began about three years ago when Dan left a successful, decades-long career in banking.
“I decided to leave my job. I wanted to spend the summer break with my kids,” Dan said.
Soon, Cleone was urging Dan to “flip some burgers,” at the café in his free time. It wasn’t long before Dan incorporated pizzas to the menu.
“I’ve always wanted to have a pizza parlor,” he said.
The pies began to take off, but the facility couldn’t handle baking several pizzas at a time.
“It got to the point that we couldn’t handle a crowd but couldn’t survive without one,” Dan said.
To accommodate the growing need, the Moncurs renovated their beloved café. At the end of June this year, they unveiled the expanded kitchen and extra dining room to the public.
“As the only restaurant (in Declo), coming here is very much a social thing,” Monet said. “We deliver but not very often; I think people would rather come in.”
Capacity increased from 24 to 72 and they can now make 10 pizzas at a time thanks to a brick pizza oven, among several other new kitchen features.
The new, large back dining room provides the opportunity for private dining. Dan said they will occasionally host reservation-only formal dinners with flown-in fresh halibut and filet mignon.
“The options we have are endless,” Dan said. “We’re really excited about all the possibilities and opportunity that it represents for this community.”
The pizzeria serves gourmet pies with a touch of New York City style. The bottom crust is thinner and the outside crust is thicker, with hand-pressed, rising dough.
Although classic flavors like pepperoni or ham and pineapple are popular, the best-selling pizza is Dan’s Hidden Jalapeño.
“We dice the jalapeños very small and put it in the sauce, which is topped with cheese and pepperoni,” he said. “It has a glowing flavor, not overbearing.”
Along with the pizzas, the Classroom continues to have classic best-selling menu items such as The Cow sandwich – a sub-sandwich creation of roast beef, peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheese and “cow” sauce, which is a special sweet horseradish unique to the café.
Monet loves to be back in the café, where she worked alongside her parents while growing up in Declo. Passing on the tradition, Dan and Monet’s children – Ririe, 18; Zachary, 16; Nicholas, 15; Sophia, 12; and Hazel Beth, 9 – will have the opportunity to work there as well.
“I think it was culture shock for the kids but this is how we grew up,” she said. “We are very lucky to be doing this and in ten years we’ll probably still be at it. Cooking is in this family’s blood so who knows, maybe our kids or our nieces or other family will take it over one day.”
The menu may change to accommodate new tastes and trends, but one thing is certain: The Little Classroom Café and Pizzeria will likely grow with Declo’s future as much as it has been rooted in its past.
Contact The Classroom Grill at: 208-654-4000