The owner of the Chicago location of Paulie Gee’s Pizza continues to try new strategies during the pandemic. The New York import arrived in Chicago four years ago with a Logan Square location, and since COVID-19 hit, staff at the normally full-service restaurant has opened up its windows overlooking Milwaukee Avenue to create a make-shift pickup window for pizza slices. Customers are greeted by a selection of N.Y.-style pies and which are quickly reheated and packaged for to-go consumption.
The pickup window strategy had helped keep the pizzeria afloat during COVID-19. Now Derrick Tung and his Chicago team will take that formula a few minutes southeast along Milwaukee Avenue to a new location. Tung hopes to open Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park by the end of December at 1566 N. Damen Avenue inside the former Bonci space near the Damen Avenue CTA Blue Line Stop.
“It’s taking a chance right now,” Tung says. “I think will be great post COVID, and I think we can manage right now during COVID.”
Paulie Gee’s is a fabled New York pizzeria with multiple locations — including Baltimore and Columbus, Ohio — that specializes in neo-Neapolitan thin-crust pies. While Tung has brought many of those recipes to Chicago, he’s made his location unique to the Midwest. For example, he’s perfected his version of Detroit-style squares, even coming up with a gluten-free crust. But before ex-Michiganders get too excited, customers won’t be able to get the Motor City pies in Wicker Park. Tung wants to make sure each location is unique. Tung’s crew is building a pick-up window and display case so customers can see what his shop is serving from the sidewalk. Customers will be able to pick slices from eight or nine different pies. The pies will be larger than Logan Square’s, too.
Tung is taking Paulie Gee’s slice shop concept — one the company debuted two years ago in Brooklyn — and tweaking it. Customers will still be able to order whole pies in Wicker Park and eventually they’ll deliver using third-party services. Tung says they’ll have two electric-powered PizzaMaster ovens, one for baking the pizza and one to reheat slices from the case. The goal is to get customers moving quickly with a slice in their hands in under a minute.
They’ll also go after the breakfast crowd, but in a different manner that the space’s predecessor did; Bonci — the world-famous Roman pizza maker — served breakfast pizza. Instead of morning pies, Paulie Gee’s will serve egg sandwiches. Before the pandemic, Tung had hired a new chef, Tony Dezutter, thinking he would begin serving brunch every day in Logan Square. The halt of indoor dining forced Paulie Gee’s to alter its plans. Over in Wicker Park, they’ll use Dezutter’s talents with intentions of expanding brunch when indoor dining is safer. Dezutter (Blissful Banana Cafe) and another Logan Square veteran, William Ravert, will operate the new location.
In a strange quirk, Tung says he won’t be allowed to serve coffee. It’s part of a non-compete clause that another of the building’s tenants, Starbucks, has in its lease. But Tung says they’ll think of something creative to provide morning beverage, perhaps team up with a local juicery. Tung adds they plan to apply for a liquor license.
Bonci didn’t serve the post-bar crowd, and staying opening late is one way Tungs says that Paulie Gee’s can distinguish itself from the previous tenants. There’s also a lot competition in the area from pizzerias like Piece Pizza, Dimo’s Pizza, Knead Great Pizza, and Lou Malnati’s.
“There’s just so much going on,” Tung says of Wicker Park’s Six Corners. “We want to be part of that, to join them and bring in something new.”
Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park, 1566 N. Damen Avenue, planned to open between mid-December and the end of the month.