When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Dimo’s Pizza owner Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau knew business was going to be tough.
Fewer customers meant fewer pizzas, and a lot of people in need of personal protective equipment.
“We do have these ovens that are quite useful,” Syrkin-Nikolau recalled thinking at the time. “If we can find another way to put them to use, they’re going to help people, especially in this tough time.”
His solution: Baking acrylic face shields.
Since March, Dimo’s has been making face shields at its Wicker Park shop, selling them online and donating them to hospitals, nursing homes and others in need of PPE.
Syrkin-Nikolau said figuring out how to make the face shields was a lot of trial and error. There was a lot to figure out — from the material, to how thick the face shield would be, as well as how they would shape it.
“You just keep doing that relentlessly until you feel like what you created is something that’s going to help people and that you can do it at a scale that actually matters,” he said.
First, an acrylic panel is heated in a pizza oven reserved for face shields. When it’s warm and moldable, it’s placed around a curved, metal sheet to cool and harden. Then, strips of foam and velcro are attached so they are wearable.
Syrkin-Nikolau said while he doesn’t have an exact number of how many face shields they’ve made, it’s “between thousands and tens of thousands.” These face shields have been sold on Dimo’s website or donated to groups in need of them.
One institution that received face shields from Dimo’s was St. Mary’s Home, a senior care community run by Little Sister’s of the Poor.
Sister Julie Horseman, president of St. Mary’s, said she was surprised to hear about a pizza shop making face shields in its ovens.
“It’s looking beyond their usual scope of work and saying, ‘What can we do beyond this and help our local community?” she said.
Tara Kline, who’s worked at Dimo’s for more than five years, said that adaptability has felt good.
“It was encouraging to myself and it built me up a little bit to realize that even if we’re in the midst of a massive pandemic, you can turn your pizza shop into a successful PPE production area,” she said.
Early in the pandemic, Dimo’s envisioned making as many as 5,000 face shields a week. Production has slowed to about 50, Kline said.
Even so, Syrkin-Nikolau believes work they’ve done reflects what the U.S. is all about — innovation.
“The concept of democracy, the way [the U.S.] was put together, clearly is not perfect,” he said. “But that idea of innovation is baked into this country.”
And while making face shields has been physically different than making pizzas, he said the idea behind the two are actually quite similar.
“Pizza is not a pretentious food. It’s a food of the people. It’s cut into slices and built to be shared,” he said. “Making the face shields has that same sort of feeling. This is for the masses, this is for the people that need to stay safe.”