Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada. When partners Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo planned to open a restaurant, Sewell, a native Texan, wanted to feature Mexican food. But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely.
Riccardo suggested pizza, which he had encountered in Italy--as indeed many American servicemen were doing during World War II. Sewell's complaint with pizza was that it was insubstantial, little more than an appetizer--and readily available in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood besides. Sewell wanted a substantial, meal-size pizza. After some experimenting, the partners devised something with a thick crust and plenty of cheese. Pizzeria Uno opened on this date at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue.Chicago has contributed many dishes to American cuisine, among them shrimp DeJonghe, chicken Vesuvio and the Italian beef sandwich. But none has been so widely imitated, nor so closely identified with the city, as Chicago-style pizza. Pizzeria Uno, however, was not an overnight success. In the early days, bartenders distributed free sample slices to introduce customers to the new pizza. "Fortunately," Sewell said, "we had a very good bar business."
Sewell, a regional vice president of Fleischmann's Distilling Corp., left the day-to-day operation of the restaurant to manager and later partner Rudy Malnati and his son, Lou. (Lou later would break away to establish Lou Malnati's Pizzeria.) But Sewell promoted Pizzeria Uno at every opportunity, even stopping strangers on the street to tell them about the new restaurant.
Business slowly increased, and in 1955, the partners opened Pizzeria Due, on the corner of Wabash and Ontario Street. Pizzeria Uno became synonymous with Chicago, and the gregarious Sewell became one of Chicago's best-known restaurateurs.
Imitators sprang up throughout the city, sparking a never-ending debate as to which restaurant made Chicago's best pizza. People even debated the relative merits of Uno and Due, though the restaurants theoretically were serving the identical fare.