Who Invented Chicago Pizza?
Pizza really grew into an American food after World War II, when returning GI’s who had been to Naples wanted more. In the 1950’s, pizzerias started to spring up all over, opened by a new post-war influx of Italian immigrants and by ex-GI’s as well.
One of the non-Italian pizza entrepreneurs was
a man named Ike Sewell. Sewell was a native of Texas, living in Chicago, who credited himself
with inventing Chicago-style deep dish pizza for his restaurant, Pizzeria Uno, which opened in 1943. According to the Pizzeria Uno website,
“Ike figured that if you combined some of Italy’s old, authentic recipes with impressive quantities of the finest meats, fresh cheeses, ripe vegetables and flavorful spices, pizza would become a hearty meal. It was the start of an American tradition – the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.”
* * *
Sounds like Sewell was a pizza genius, doesn’t it?
Actually, Ike Sewell wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, like the ones he knew growing up in Texas. But neither he nor his Italian partner, Ric Riccardo knew anything about Mexican food, and their attempt was disastrous.
It was Ric who wanted to do pizza and between the two, they came up with the hearty, casserole-like version of American pie known as Chicago pizza. Their success allowed them to open Pizzeria Due in 1955, and today there are over 200 Uno Chicago Grill restaurants.
You’ll find more about Uno Chicago Grill restaurants in our upcoming Pizza Franchises and Pizza Chains section.
Like Lombardi’s disciples in New York, the deep-dish pie became ubiquitous in Chicago through several Chicago pizza makers who left Uno. First was Uno‘s primary pizza chef, Alice Mae Redmond. It is said that Alice Mae was the one who developed Uno’s dough recipe. She left in the sixties, formed a partnership with three local businessmen, including cab drivers Fred Bartoli and Sam Levine, and opened Gino’s East. Gino’s has been through several changes in ownership but still uses the same recipe in its thirteen locations.
Rudy Malnati managed Uno for years, along with his son Lou. When Lou offered to buy a partnership for
himself and his father, Ike refused. Rudy stayed, Lou left to open Lou Malnati’s, which is today a very successful chain of pizzerias in the Chicago area – we (Lil and Cary), although die-hard New York pizza lovers, really enjoyed our first Lou Malnati’s pizza on a visit to the
We want to thank the authors of Everybody Loves Pizza, an informative and fun book, for teaching us a lot about Chicago pizza history.
Since this is a Chicago (Pizza) History page, here’s a picture of the last President of the United States to know anything about pizza ferociously biting into a slice of his hometown Chicago-style pizza:
You’ll find more about Chicago pizza soon in the forthcoming Types of Pizza section.