VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – After more than two decades running the ship at Domino’s, Ernie Warner is now living his dream outside the corporate (pizza) box.

“I’m kind of a little obsessed with food, I like to read cookbooks and just go in the grocery store and just look … ‘hey what can you do with this?'” said Warner, whose pizza making career goes back even further, about 40 years.

He enjoyed the work, but was always serving up someone else’s food.

However that all changed when he recently opened Dolcinea Pizzeria in Virginia Beach at 1255 Fordham Drive just off Indian River Road near Regent University. It’s an intimate space that seats just over 30.

Ernie Warner flips pizza dough for the camera, but says this dough isn’t a great one for flipping.

“He loves to cook, and you can really taste that in his food and his cooking,” said Ernie’s son, Jacob Warner. “… This is great because he now he has more creative control over everything. … It’s been neat to see him pull the menu together and to see what he was interested in doing.”

“Basil adds a lot of flavor,” Ernie says. “Of course the kids say ‘why is there green stuff on my pizza?”

Some of the favorites so far are of course the pizza (the white pizza’s really popular), as well as the house-made meatballs and the house ranch.

“It’s funny to me, that’s one of the consistent comments we get is ‘we love the ranch,'” Jacob joked. “There’s more to come, we’re going to add some other things to the menu, and we’ve been getting good feedback.”

Ernie says he worked since last summer to fix the place up and get it ready, and his family has been key as business improves.

“My wife’s here with me every day, doing the hard stuff, washing dishes and keeping me ahead,” Ernie said about his wife Kim. The two met while working at Domino’s in Gloucester, Virginia, where they still live.

Ernie and Kim Warner.

Ernie’s brother-in-law also helps make pizzas on Fridays, and the kids “jumped in wherever they can help,” Ernie said.

Jacob runs social media and works in-house on the weekends when not at his full-time job at Newport News Shipbuilding. And Ernie’s daughter Ariel, a Coast Guard spouse, got more than 600 shares on Facebook when she posted about Dolcinea earlier this month.

“My kids are just super supportive,” Ernie said.

The next steps for Dolcinea include getting a beer and wine license, which should come in about a month, and extended hours. The restaurant’s currently open Tuesday through Sunday (4 p.m. to 8 p.m. from Tuesday-Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

In the meantime, Ernie and his family are just thrilled he’s finally got his own spot.

“I’m just really proud of him,” Kim said, “He’s been looking to do this for a very long time, I’m very proud of him for making it happen.”

Dolcinea’s menu as of March 2023