It is almost impossible to think of deep dish pizza and not think of its association with Chicago. Deep Dish pizza is deeply rooted in Chicago, and for the longest time, legends have abounded about who invented this unique variation on traditional pizza.
Thanks to the work of Chicago’s cultural historian Tim Samuelson, some of the mystery surrounding the origins of this legendary food may have been solved.
It is almost certain that the origins of the dish came out of a restaurant that was located in a 19th century mansion that was built by lumber baron Nathan Mears. The mansion was located at 29 East Ohio Street and it became the home of The Pizzeria when it opened in 1943. It was located just north of Chicago’s downtown loop. The first deep dish pizza that was served in Chicago was served at The Pizzeria in 1943.
The founders of The Pizzeria were Richard Novaretti, who also happened to be known as Ric Riccardo, the owner of Riccardo’s Restaurant on the corner of Rush and Hubbard Streets and Chicago liquor distributor, Ike Sewell.
Riccardo’s was located just a few blocks away from The Pizzeria and it became a stomping ground and hang out for journalists and writers who were visiting Chicago or those who lived there.
Not long after the Pizzeria opened, the name was changed to Pizzeria Riccardo, perhaps to let people who frequented Riccardo’s Restaurant know that this new pizza place was also his establishment.
Evidence from Chicago phone books of the 1940’s and 1950’s show that the tenants of the mansion at that time were Riccardo, Rudy Malnati, Sr (from the famous Malnati family, another important family of pizza creators in Chicago,) and a restaurant that served something called “pizza.”
Additional evidence from newspaper clippings and advertisements of the day show that in 1951, Rudy Malnati, Sr. became the manager of Pizzeria Riccardo. Other newspaper clippings refer to him as the main operator and a co-owner of the restaurant.
In 1955, Riccardo, Sewell and Malnati opened another pizzeria on the corner of Wabash Street and Ontario, a block from where the original Pizzeria Riccardo was. The new restaurant was called Pizzeria Due, and the name of the original one was changed to Pizzeria Uno.
In 1978, Aaron Spencer got Sewell’s approval to introduce a franchise of Pizzeria Uno into Boston. That was the beginning of Pizzeria Uno’s expansion. The company’s corporate headquarters are now located in Boston.
Novaretti may have been responsible for coming up with the idea for this unique pizza that had a thick crust and that must have weighed at least five pounds. ,Sewell was responsible for making the restaurant and the pizza famous. Pizzeria Uno’s website claims that Sewell was the one who was responsible for inventing this celebrated dish.
Samuelson has amassed enough documentation to prove that what is pretty certain about this famous pizza is that in 1943, the restaurant which was then called the Pizzeria produced a unique variation on traditional pizza as it was formerly known in the United States.
This pizza had a characteristically coarse but crunchy crust. Unlike most pizzas, the sauce was poured over a layer of cheese, and then another layer of cheese was sprinkled over the tomato sauce. The pizza was made with Italian sausage. This is how the unique style of deep dish pizza that is now universally associated with Chicago came into existence.