Here's Our Story
Brenda McDonnell made her way to Garrett County purely by chance.
Brenda’s Deep Creek story began in 1988 after a long drive from her home in the Bronx, New York City. She was heading to Maryland, which, to her meant Baltimore, and after what seemed forever, she and her friend Dominick ended up in Bittinger, Maryland, in an area that was far different than anything she had every encountered.
Tired and hungry, they wanted the special treat they had grown up with in their area --delicious, New York Style Pizza. Disappointed to learn that there were only two places in the area that even sold pizza, and both made with pre-made ingredients, an idea was born. They realized that there was an untapped market in the county and surely everyone, both locals and the increasing amount of guests visiting every year, would love to eat the kind of pizza they had grown up with in the Bronx, made with quality, authentic ingredients used with such skill by the pizza shops that abounded in their New York neighborhoods.
In the fall of that same year, they started a pizza shop in McHenry, Dominick’s Pizzeria, and it was here that Brenda learned, over the course of eight years, how to produce consistently good pizza. She learned to make dough from scratch using durum (hard) flour and to adjust the temperature so it would rise consistently in every kind of weather, how to stretch it by feel and to turn the pizzas in brick ovens so the crust would emerge crisp, firm and flavorful. They insisted on buying plum tomatoes from the San Marzano district in Italy because the soil there gave the product just the right hint of acidity and liveliness. They also used the highest grade of mozzarella and imported Pecorina Romano cheeses.
Over the years, Brenda was gratified to see that people appreciated their efforts to share what they had experienced in their former home. Brenda made many new friends and became involved in many community organizations. Those friends followed her to Wisp in 1995 when she left Dominick’s to manage Pizzazz Pizzeria. Although Pizzazz was part of a larger corporation, it still had a family feel to it, because it was owned by the Heise family, original founders of Wisp Ski Resort and Will O’ the Wisp. Under the guidance of Ace Heise, Brenda learned more about the science of food service, how to accommodate larger groups, and the excitement of being at the center of such an exciting venture.
But when the Heises’ sold Wisp a few years later, Brenda knew it was time for her to re-create the neighborhood place she had grown up with and had dreamed about ever since Dominick’s closed in 1995. It was then or never!
Brenda’s Pizzeria opened at its current location (Traders Landing) in June of 2001. She took over the existing coffee house (Traders Coffee House) on the ground floor and started the pizzeria upstairs. Since their opening, she and her dependable staff pride themselves on their friendliness and ability to cook good food for their friends. There were some drawbacks to the original building, especially its small kitchen and indoor dining area. Brenda dreamed of a new building and after Labor Day weekend in 2003, she closed her doors to allow the dream to become a reality. The building was torn down to the ground and a new one soon appeared, thanks in part, to the vision of Paul Sprenger and Jane Lang, from whom Brenda had purchased the building. The couple, well known entrepreneurs themselves as well as mentors and community activists, believed in Brenda and her dream and helped provide her with a new place to sell pizza and coffee. In May 2004 they reopened in their beautiful new building and both businesses have been going like gangbusters ever since. That was a doubly important year for Brenda as she married husband Martin Heise that April.
Although Brenda and her loyal, hardworking crew still use many of the same recipes and quality ingredients that have made her pizza one of the most popular in the area, Brenda is very diligent on keeping up with current trends in the food service industry. Hers was one of the first restaurants in the area to use local, home grown and fresh produce whenever possible in her recipes. Over the years, she has expanded her menu to include many vegetarian options and most recently, added wonderful gluten free options including a delicious gluten-free pizza that still offers that authentic New York style taste.
Several years ago, both the Pizzeria and Coffee House made an environmental commitment to use only eco-friendly to-go cups and canisters and to recycle as much waste as possible.
Brenda’s highly trained workforce, one of the friendliest and most customer oriented on the lake, is an important part of her success. Many have been with her since their teenage years and she has inspired, mentored and motivated them to follow their own direction. Some of our area’s most successful leaders started as dishwashers in Brenda’s kitchens. She takes them regularly to conferences and food shows across the country. Recent trips included aCoffee Roasters convention in Seattle, food shows in Chicago and New York City, and the annual Pizza Convention in Las Vegas. She values their input into each of her businesses and many of the creations you’ll find in both the Pizzeria and Coffee House, come directly from her staff.
In late 2012, the Four Seasons Dining Room at Will O’ the Wisp, founded by her in-laws, closed its doors. Brenda, with the help of her husband Martin, envisioned a new future for the Deep Creek staple and after months ofextensive remodeling and staff training, it reopened in 2013 as Ace’s Run, a nod and tribute to her mother and father-in-law for their great contribution to Garrett County.
Brenda’s tireless energy and enthusiasm, along with everyone in her organization , have ensured all three restaurants continue to do well. Brenda’s restaurants have become her living room…a place where she welcomes friends, old and new, serves up delicious and fresh food, and always takes a minute to ask about you and your family, because at Brenda’s everyone is family.