A slice of uniqueness in downtown Durham

In a world filled with chain restaurants, it can be tough to find local establishments.

Carmen O’Neal poses with Lilly’s newest artwork.

Carmen O’Neal poses with Lilly’s newest artwork, which features photographer Chris Barron and other local artists.

At Lilly’s Pizza, however, it’s not only about using local ingredients – it’s about maintaining a unique feel and giving back to the Durham community.

“As far as the community is concerned, we make a lot of donations to a lot of places including schools, local playgrounds and outreach programs that help send kids in the community to college,” says Bryant Holloway, the general manager of the Durham restaurant. “Also, all of our employees are from Durham. Most people were born here, but we have students from Central as well. We definitely have a local feel here.”

Lilly’s Pizza opened in May 2012 and is located at 810 W. Peabody St., around the corner from Brightleaf Square.

Although the restaurant is relatively new to Durham, its story began in 1993. The original Lilly’s is located in downtown Raleigh and occupies the space of a former biker bar that was restored by three musicians. The trio named the restaurant after their beloved dog, Lilly.

Despite its connection to Raleigh, Lilly’s strives to maintain a unique presence in Durham.

“We try to be as involved with the community as we possibly can,” says Carmen O’Neal, the events coordinator for Lilly’s. “At the beer festival, we gave away 35 free pizzas. We’re very acclimated with Duke, especially with the children’s clinic. We’ll help with anything that has to do with the community.”

Jon Garrison, the owner of both locations, has overseen control of Lilly’s since 1998. He says he decided to open a restaurant in Durham based on its historical appeal.

Holloway says that Lilly’s makes its food entirely by scratch – using the most natural, local and organic foods available. The menu boasts over 70 pizza toppings, as well as a variety of options for customers with dietary restrictions. Additionally, the Durham location offers twice the amount of seating as the Raleigh location and has a liquor license. Indy Week recently awarded Lilly’s with the 2013 Best Local Pizza title.

“Everything we order is local and everything we serve is organic,” says Holloway. “We have gluten-free and dairy-free options, so we try to please as many people as we can. Everything is made on a daily basis. We don’t keep anything overnight. We also have tons of local beer that we try to market. Overall, it’s a family-oriented restaurant.”

The Lilly’s experience is about more than just food, however. The restaurant walls are adorned with local artwork for sale. Lilly’s also occasionally hosts live music.

With such a social atmosphere, it’s no surprise that Lilly’s has become a popular community gathering spot.

“My favorite thing about working here is the people,” says Christopher Sprague, a waiter at Lilly’s. “I like the employees here and I like meeting new customers.”

Kristina Fondren, a resident of Durham, says she eats at Lilly’s on a regular basis.

“Lilly’s Pizza has a very ‘old Durham’ vibe,” says Fondren. “They sell local beer and some of their pizzas are named after local things, like the tobacco stack. I took my brother last Christmas Eve to show him a good local spot and he loved it.”

For more information, visit www.lillyspizza.com or call (919) 797-2554. Lilly’s is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.