Detroit-style restaurants in Chicago have to stick together. This is how Derrick Tung, owner of two local Paulie Gee’s outposts — and Detroit-style pizza super fan — befriended Jesse Fakhoury, owner of Lola’s Coney Island when Lola’s opened its Motor City-style hot dog stand in 2019 in Humboldt Park. The two collaborated on a Coney Island hot dog pizza and have talked about other projects.
Now two years later, the two are neighbors at Damen Food Court on Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus where Tung has opened a third Paulie Gee’s next to the Lola’s location that opened in October. Though many college campuses are full of slice shops, Paulie Gee’s won’t serve slices like it does in Wicker Park. Instead they’re opting for personal-sized pizzas.
Paulie Gee’s is an expansion of the New York chain known for modern Neapolitan thin-crust pies and N.Y.-style slices. At Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, Tung added his take on Detroit-style pan pizzas, square-cut pies with caramelized outer rims — the kind Jet’s and Buddy’s serve in the Mitten. Pizza Hut has even attempted to cash in on the trend with a limited-time offering.
Fakhoury was the one who suggested Paulie Gee’s to come to Loyola: “I know just the guy to fill it,” Fakhoury told university food-service provider Aramark according to Tung. “He makes the best Detroit-style pizza in town.”
At Loyola food court — which is open to the general public — Paulie Gee’s won’t immediately serve Detroit-style pizza. The key to Detroit-style pizza are the metal pans, and some restaurants push a narrative that links the pans to the steel used by Motor City’s auto makers. Regardless of the validity of those claims, Tung says there’s an eight-week lead time to his special-order six-inch by six-inch Detroit-style pans; he doesn’t expect them before January. Until then, Paulie Gee’s Loyola will serve grandma-style and Sicilian slices, also rectangular with a thick crust, but five-by-eight inches. If the students take to the Sicilian, there’s a chance they’ll continue to sell those, in addition to Detroit squares.
Loyola’s menu currently consists of four pizzas: margherita, double pepperoni, mushroom, and the Paulie Gee’s Special (pepperoni, ricotta, basil, hot honey). There will also be dipping sauces. To start, Tung anticipates being able to make 200 pizzas a night, but that number will increase as time goes on. The dough is parbaked in Logan Square and finished off at Loyola.
“It’s a very tight menu,” Tung says. “The goal right now is to standardize operations. We’re working in a kitchen we’ve never done service out of. So we’re using a simple menu that will serve 80 percent of the population.”
Beyond the addition of Detroit-style pies, menu will expand. Paulie Gee’s is known for its extensive vegan and gluten-free options, and Tung hopes to bring those over to Loyola next month. Until then, he’ll be offering specials with dairy-free cheese to satisfy the 15 percent of the student population that identifies as vegan.
Like many other restaurateurs, Tung is facing a tight labor market. Aramark expects the booth to stay open 11 hours a day, seven days a week. Tung still needs to find enough workers to keep the booth open for that long. For the moment, he and his managing partner Bertha Sharp, a veteran of the opening team of Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park, will be staffing the counter.
Nonetheless, Tung says he’s excited. “This is our first time in a non-restaurant, working on campus. There’s a lot to learn. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking.”
Paulie Gee’s Loyola inside Loyola University’s Damen Food Court, 1125 W. Loyola Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.