Decade by decade, slice by slice, take an in-depth look at the history of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, serving Chicago's best deep dish pizza since 1971.
The 1970s, where it all began...
On March 17th, 1971, Lou Malnati and his wife Jean opened the first Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Lincolnwood, IL. Lou always thought it was funny that an Italian should open a pizzeria in a Jewish neighborhood on an Irish holiday, but that was just Lou's style. He wanted his restaurant to be a model of hospitality, a place dedicated to family.
Opening day 1971 was a day to remember, not only because hungry customers were getting their first taste of Lou's soon to be legendary deep dish pizza, but because a car crashed through the walls of the main dining room during the dinner hour. Looking back on it, Jean says this incident made for an "exciting" opening day, but like with all things, the Malnatis bounced back.
After meeting with enormous success in Lincolnwood, Lou decided it was time to expand the business, and he opened another pizzeria in Elk Grove Village, close to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Unfortunately, a road construction project began just a few months after the opening, and the next 14 months nearly put Lou Malnati's Pizzeria out of business. Lou refused to give up, and as soon as construction finished, the customers came back in droves.
The Malnatis were not so fortunate when they opened their third pizzeria in south suburban Flossmoor in 1977, just a year before Lou died. The logistical nightmare of opening a location over 50 miles from where Lou had created his "hub" in the north suburbs almost bankrupted the family. Just 16 months after opening, they were forced to close this pizzeria, and were left owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Somehow, Lou's indomitable spirit lived on, as his son, Marc, graduated from college and joined Jean. In the Malnati tradition, they steadied the ship and paid back their vendors over the next few years.
From the very start, the Malnati family were passionate about giving back to the community that supported them.
Starting in 1971, Lou and Jean hosted their first annual charity event to raise a scholarship fund for a local athlete that would play football at Wake Forest University, in the name of famous Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo, who passed away from cancer.
After Lou also fell victim to cancer in 1978, Jean transformed this dinner into the Lou Malnati's Cancer Research Benefit. To date, the Lou Malnati's Cancer Research Fund has raised over $3 million to benefit organizations who are dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.
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