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Southlake Style

Former Carroll Teacher and Wife Open Nearby Restaurant

Jan 28, 2017 04:50PM ● By Kevin
After 27 years of teaching, 13 of those at Carroll ISD, Tony Dirker decided to help make a dream come true. The former Southlake resident and his wife, Theresa, retired to a mini-ranch in Nocona in 2011, and soon felt a nudge to open a business. They now own Red River Pizzeria, 223 Clay St. in Nocona. The restaurant opened in May.

Tony, who taught social studies at multiple Carroll ISD schools and was an assistant coach for the wrestling team his final two years at the district, said ever since he's known Theresa, she's wanted to open a pizza shop. She was inspired by a small pizzeria in her hometown in Indiana.

It was Nocona's charm and potential for growth that motivated the two to make the dream a reality.

"We decided Nocona is a great little caring community that’s trying to improve itself and we want to be a part of it," Tony said. "We researched and bought a corner lot in the city and built a restaurant."

The business, named for the infamous, nearby Red River, sits right in the heart of town, close to the Horton Classic Car Museum. Owned by Pete and Barbara Horton, known for Peba Oil & Gac Co. in Wichita Falls, the museum is the cornerstone for the revival of Nocona, according to Tony.

Now, the Texas town offers a "great day trip" for people of the Metroplex, offering plenty of wineries and is home to the Nokona Baseball Glove. 

Business, Tony said, is going great. He attributed some of that success to Theresa's involvement in a "pizza college" up in Toronto, where she learned the recipes from an authentic Italian chef - so authentic that he needed a translator to speak to his English-speaking students.

A week before opening on May 9, 2016, the college sent a consultant down to Nocona to help set the kitchen up and train the local chefs.

"It’s a huge learning experience for us," Tony said. "Business is getting better and better. We’ve had some good publicity. Almost all the people are very happy with the product."

Aside from publicity and word of mouth, festivals and local events help with the shop's exposure. Mardis Gras Nocona Style takes place on Feb. 16-18 and caps off with a 5k run and a parade. The town expects a few thousand to attend, and Tony and Theresa are hoping for lots of pizza lovers to visit their shop. 

"It’s good, because I generally have a lot of locals obviously, but we have a lot of people from out of town," he said. "I thought this was pretty cool: there was a mom and dad and daughter that came in. The daughter goes to college at Western State. They were celebrating her first day of school of her last semester. They came all the way out here to celebrate it. I thought that was pretty neat."

The whole family has gotten involved in the operation. Tony's sister, Laura, is a major part of the team. His mother, Margaret, is the hostess of the establishment, and a favorite friend to the regular customers. The Dirker's son, Chris, handles the social media. He works in photography as he finishes up his bachelor's degree.

Tony hopes to see the restaurant grow over the next five years, improving upon customer service and efficiency. The family still makes it back to Southlake ever so often, and look back fondly at the years spent living there.

"It’s a unique district that I have nothing but fond memories of," Tony said. "The camaraderie, high expectations, parents’ involvement in kids education, professionalism of the staff ... all these things make Southlake Carroll great. I miss being there. I still follow the Dragons on the internet. I still have colleagues I’m in contact with all the time. I’m impressed with how its keeping true with its values and the high expectations of them being the best community they can be."

When offered the chance to give advice to Southlake residents looking to open a business, Tony's overarching theme was research.

"You can’t just jump into this type of thing," he said. "The retail and restaurant business is a hard business. I’m hoping we’re successful. That’s not a given. Every day is a new day. You can’t live on the laurels of what you did yesterday.

"Everybody comes in and says, 'I know it’s going to be a lot of work,' but you don’t understand how much work it is until you get into it. You’ve got to be prepared for it. It’s your whole life. You’ve got to be there, or somebody’s got to be there. Myself, my wife, my sister Laura works with us, too. At all times, one of the three of us is here. You’ve got to be here for your customers and general supervision. You’re not going to be able to run a business if you buy it, set it up, staff it, and you’re never there. That’s going to be difficult."