Thursday, August 16, 2012

Some “Deep” Thoughts from the Windy City

I write this post having just returned from a short family trip to Chicago. For those who know me, it won’t come as any surprise that the trip was instigated by the opportunity to see two new musicals (“Hero” and “Eastland”), as well as a chance to catch up with a law school classmate and her family. We also hit some tourist destinations (the Museum of Science and Industry and the Brookfield Zoo) and had the obligatory Chicago hot dog (actually a polish “char dog" at Portillos).

Of course, there was also plenty of pizza. I’m not talking about the thin chewy variety served at Ray’s Pizza in NYC (or is it “Famous Rays,” “Original Rays,” “Famous Original Ray’s,” or “Original Famous Ray’s” (I guess that’s another post for a trademark lawyer), but the deep dish variety for which Chicago is known. Given that I named Gino’s East as part of my desired last meal on earth, you know my preference—although I do admit that I like both types of pie.

As I ate my way through Lou Malnati’s and Gino’s East (along with an unsuccessful try at convincing the family to have a lunch at My π), I was struck by how many different folks had managed to successfully start deep dish pizza chains in Chicago. When you read through the histories of these restaurants, along with Pizzeria Uno, you’ll notice some entrepreneurial themes: 
  • Having a large public appetite (pun intended) for your product means there’s room for multiple successes, even in a seemingly crowded field.
  • As with many great technology company disputes (e.g., Apple Computer v. Microsoft Corporation), it seems that there’s a lot of controversy about who actually invented deep dish pizza—was it Ike Sewell at Uno’s or his chef, Rudy Malnati, father of Lou.
  • Many of these restaurateurs had difficulties as they tried to expand and/or franchise their concepts. As with many companies, maintaining culture and managing cash during a growth phase proved a daunting task.
For the record, while it is a close call with some of the aforementioned culinary establishments, I still think Gino’s East is the tastiest, largely the result of the corn meal component to the crust.

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