LINCOLN SQUARE — Carol and Diana Himmel have bet big on Lawrence Avenue, and that gamble is about to pay off.
The sisters, owners of Himmel's restaurant (formerly Pizza D.O.C.), 2251 W. Lawrence Ave., just received the first permit doled out in the 47th Ward for a sidewalk cafe on Lawrence.
"It's going to give us so much more visibility," said Diana. "The most difficult thing about being on Lawrence is people don't know we're here."
Construction of the Lawrence Avenue streetscape made the outdoor cafe possible by widening the sidewalk, but it nearly wrecked the Himmels' business in the process.
Patty Wetli talks sidewalk cafes Lawrence Avenue's recently expanded sidewalks:
Between construction barricades and torn up pavement, "people couldn't come in the front door. We were very concerned," said Carol. "We always said, 'We're going to have to walk through hell to get to heaven.'"
Now that work on the streetscape is nearly completed on their stretch of Lawrence, the sisters are believers in the project's promise.
Drivers may be vexed that the street has been narrowed to a single lane in both directions, but the longer traffic queues have been a boon to Himmel's.
"We had two customers come in yesterday and say, 'We never noticed you before,'" said Diana. "People are driving by slower."
The sidewalk cafe, set to open May 30, promises to be another attention grabber.
As with all things Himmel, the new addition is a family affair.
Mom Inge is designing the outdoor dining area, which will feature authentic HB Hofbrau umbrellas shipped from Munich.
"She never gets mentioned," said Carol. "She's the power behind us. She gives us our energy."
Dad Erich, who built Himmel's bar, is busy carving Bavarian-style flourishes into slabs of cedar wood, which will serve as the rails for the cafe's fencing.
"He does everything for us, he's amazing," said Diana.
Though the final details are still in flux, the Himmels are planning on six tables for the cafe and are developing a lunch menu featuring lighter fare like sandwiches and salads to complement warm-weather dining. They have a license to serve alcohol until 11 p.m.
"It's going to be a learning process," Diana said, acknowledging the sisters have no idea how much business the cafe will generate.
But with the recent opening of Mariano's down the road and Roots Pizza "coming soon" to the block, the pair expect an increase in foot traffic on Lawrence, as people venture off Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square.
"We're excited more people are taking the plunge," Carol said. "We took the first one. We went around the corner [from Lincoln] when no one would."