“It’s been hard,” Dan Hebert, owner of Dan’s Place, tells me over the phone. Over nine months have passed since we met in person at Hebert’s restaurant in West Greenwich. That was before COVID-19 turned the economy, and Rhode Island’s restaurant industry in particular, topsy-turvy. When the pandemic hit, Hebert shut down in-person dining but continued doing takeout. “We began online ordering in January, right after the holidays. That definitely helped us out, we were able to work out the kinks before COVID hit.”
The restaurant reopened its dining room at the end of July at 66 percent capacity. They’ve done everything possible to keep customers and staff safe, including adding UV lights to the HVAC units. His customers appreciate the extra precautions. There are up to one-hour waits at peak times for in-house dining and takeout. (Pro-tip: arrive or order before 4pm or after 7pm to avoid the wait.)
A former Marine, Hebert nearly joined the Rhode Island State Police but fate intervened. A few days after he turned in his application to join the force, Hebert saw a pizza place for sale. He called the police department and told them to rip up his application. One month later, he opened Dan’s Pizza Place – a small pizzeria in a strip mall on Victory Highway.
Demand was such that Hebert built the current restaurant in 2009. The original location wasn’t big enough to do much more than the standard pizza, pasta, and calzones. So when he expanded to the 4,400 square foot location, the larger restaurant meant an expanded menu featuring over 192 base items.
Throughout the pandemic, even working with a skeleton staff, Hebert never cut down their extensive menu, which includes the perfect comfort food for our pandemic times: poutine. Crisp French fries are smothered in peppery gravy (Hebert uses a combination of chicken and beef). The fries are topped off with cheese curds and then the dish goes in the oven until the cheese gets gooey and stringy.
According to Hebert, the curds make all the difference. Cheese curds, usually made from cheddar, are the by-product of the cheese-making process. Unlike cheddar cheese blocks, curds are not aged, which also makes them nearly impossible to find outside of a dairy farm. The curds Dan’s Place uses come from Wisconsin, the American cheese curd mecca. (Canadian curds prove too much of a border-crossing challenge.)
“You want curds that squeak between your teeth,” he tells me, handing me one to try. It’s surprisingly springy and light in texture with a mild cheddar flavor. And, yes, it squeaks.
A firm believer in giving back, Hebert raffles a brand new motorcycle every year, displayed over the bar, for charity. Because of coronavirus, this year’s raffle raising money for suicide awareness was postponed to June 2021. Hebert may be West Greenwich’s Pizza Guy, but Dan’s Place transcends his mighty pie.