Solving the Mystery of How Deep Dish Pizza Came to be in Chicago


[icon name=icon-star] BEST – Do you know what happened 71 years ago in Chicago history? Didn’t think so. December 3rd should be a holiday celebrated by every Chicagoan.

Thanks to the opinion “traditional pizza is nothing but an appetizer”, a Texan, and some sh*tty Mexican food — Chicago-style deep dish pizza was born.

Pizzeria Uno

On December 3, 1943 a mansion turned restaurant at the corner of Ohio and Wabash opened its doors for the first time with the idea that bigger was better. That restaurant would eventually be known as Pizzeria Uno, as in number one. The first to say one slice is filling, and the first to cook the most widely recognized pizza on the planet.

Of course the once great landmark sold out a long time ago, as co-founder Ike Sewell decided to franchise the name and concept to Uno Restaurant Holdings Company in 1978.

Leave it to an enterprising Texan to ruin a good thing… Not to worry though, Chicago’s deep dish scene would not only continue to thrive, but evolve; as another variation of the deep dish, “stuffed pizza, “ was also introduced int he 70’s by Giordano’s and Nancy’s.

Since then it’s blasphemous to say Uno’s still makes Chicago’s best pie, as ironically, more “authentic imitators” have stolen the hearts of locals. True Chicagoans don’t step foot in the place unless they’re entertaining out of towners. But something should be said about being the first.

Da Guys Who Made Da Pie

Three tenants, one mansion.

Records indicate that three men by the name of Ric Riccardo, Ike Sewell, and Adolpho “Rudy” Malnati were fellow tenants of a mansion built by lumber baron Nathan Mears at 29 E. Ohio St.. From there, Riccardo, an established restaurateur (born Richard Novaretti) and his friend Ike Sewell, a local liquor distributor from Texas decided to open a restaurant together.

Being from Texas, Sewell not so surprisingly suggested the idea of a Mexican restaurant. But when Riccardo fell violently ill from the test food, he refused to take any part in a venture of Mexican cuisine. So he countered with the idea of pizza.

During a World War II tour in Italy, Riccardo had eaten pizza and grew very fond of it. However, he said that pizza itself was unsubstantial and not suitable as a full meal.¬†Given that, Sewell agreed but proposed they super-size the pizza and create their own Americanized take on the Italian staple; as the market for traditional pizza was already saturated by Italian immigrants who began serving Chicago’s little Italy, then as popularity spread, the rest of the city. Enter Chicago-style deep dish.

As for Rudy Malnati Sr., he was Riccardo’s former bartender and the Ohio Street restaurant’s most loyal employee. He later became a full fledged partner which stories indicate was made official over nothing more than a handshake.

Their restaurant opened in 1943 as The Pizzeria, became Pizzeria Riccardo soon afterward, then settled in as Pizzeria Uno in 1955. Pizzeria Due was opened down the street in another Mears mansion not long after.

Chicago-style deep dish was born from a confluence of Riccardo’s impetus, Sewell’s “everything’s bigger in Texas” attitude, and the availability of some mansions.

The Prodigal Father

Nowadays, the family tree of Uno and Due is astounding. Many of Chicago’s most notable pizza houses were opened by former employees of Uno and Due.

Alice Mae Redmond of Gino’s East, Helen Delisi of Delisi’s Pizza, and Louisa DeGenero of Louisa’s Pizza, were all once under the employ of either Uno or Due’s.

Perhaps the most famous of them all is Luciano “Lou” Malnati, the son of Rudy Malnati and founder of Lou Malnati’s.

Lou’s brother, Rudy Jr. is the founder of Pizano’s.

Happy Birthday Chicago Deep Dish!