Pizza and basketball are two subjects that can fire up true Chicagoans whether it’s arguing deep dish/tavern crust versus New York style or “debating” who’s the greatest when it comes to Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. The city has passionate fans of food and sport, and a new South Side restaurant opening in mid-December wants to tap into that love.
Chi Pizza Pie will serve a unique thin-crust style of pies inside a 4,000 square-foot space decorated with hoops lore and murals from local street artists. The project also includes the Invisible Space, an adjoining community-oriented gallery space for yoga and meditation. Ownership is motivated by the desire to shine a positive light on Chicago’s South Side, an underserved area that needs more food options.
“It’s kind of silly in some ways, but pizza and basketball cater to every single demographic,” co-owner Alex Tadros said. Tadros also owns Maxwell Street on 79th, a South Side fast-food restaurant. There aren’t many Italian spots nearby, and he hopes to fill a niche.
Chi Pizza Pie features a game room filled with Pop-a-Shot machines where customers can show off their shot-making talents. Ownership took over the space at 8548 S. Cottage Grove, across the street from the Nike Community Store in Chatham. They plan on donating 5 percent of profits to a rotating slate of Chicago charities and want to offer profit sharing to their 20 or some employees.
Chatham is the South Side neighborhood where Chance the Rapper grew up. That wasn’t an attempt to shoehorn Chance’s name into the story as Brandon Breaux, the artist who designed all three of Chance’s album covers, is in charge of the project’s art direction. He brought in street artists to paint the murals inside. Authenticity was important — Breaux didn’t want artists who could emulate street styles, he wanted artists who actually painted street murals.
The Invisible Space is Breaux’s baby. The name is a reference to neglected urban areas, many that can be found on the South Side, communities that are forgotten. That’s very apparent in Chicago given the schism between the North and South sides, segregated by race and class. Weekly yoga and meditation classes can be a boon to locals, but Breaux also hopes the project can shatter stereotypes. He called the bigoted notion that traveling to the South Side could be dangerous “ridiculous” and wants to challenge “those outside the community to come out and figure out what’s really going on with Chicago.”
The food is well thought out. Tadros received menu help from chef Wallace Effort. Effort used to work at Spiaggia and owned Three Chefs, a shuttered restaurant in Auburn Gresham. The pizza features a sweet sauce and comes in a whopping 28-inch size and in jumbo slices. They’ll also serve Italian beef, wings, pasta, and Italian ice. The pizza is unique, cooked under a conveyor belt oven and then crisped in a 600-degree oven. They’ll have traditional pizza toppings and varieties like Buffalo chicken, Philly cheesesteak, and barbecue chicken. The novelty of those speciality pizzas may not excite pizza snobs, but what they’re doing in Chatham extends beyond played out pizza debates.
“It’s more than a restaurant,” Breaux said.
The space will also screen basketball highlights spanning from current action to vintage games. They’ll show video from Jordan’s ‘90s glory years with the Bulls, or maybe a montage of current Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine’s best dunks. It’s a fun way to deliver a history lesson to younger fans, Tadros said. They’ll also show other Internet clips so folks won’t get burned out on hoops.
Chi Pizza Pie should open in mid-December. Stay tuned for updates.