– By Tom Schaffner
Deep Dish Pizza Celebrates 75th Birthday. But who invented it?
(Adapted from an article that first appeared in the Chicago File, March 1987.)
Many around the world are familiar with Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. Few, however, know who is responsible for inventing this gastronomic gut bomb, or even where it originated.
It began in 1943 — 75 years ago — when a Texas-born liquor salesman, Ike Sewell, came to Chicago and befriended Ric Riccardo, Sr., the owner of a popular Rush Street restaurant, Riccardo’s. The two discussed opening a restaurant together, but had different ideas on what to serve.
Sewell wanted to open a Mexican restaurant and serve the kind of food he enjoyed as a boy in Texas. He was convinced such an establishment would be successful because there weren’t any Mexican restaurants in Chicago’s Loop or on the Near North Side.
Mexican food did not agree with Riccardo, who often became ill upon consuming it. Riccardo suggested the restaurant serve pizza instead.
Sewell liked the pizza idea because only a few establishments between Chicago and the East Coast were serving it. But Sewell thought that pizza should be more than just an appetizer, he felt it should be closer to a meal than a snack.
Sewell and Riccardo experimented until they came up with a far thicker pizza product that has since become legendary.
But at first it didn’t sell, no one knew what it was. So Sewell, ever the marketer, gave away free samples of the deep-dish pizza for several months after Pizzeria Uno opened. After a newspaper reporter raved about the deep dish in an article, which helped ensure the future success of Uno’s.
In 1955, Pizzeria Due opened just down the street, a by-product of Uno’s success. And in 1963, Sewell opened the Mexican restaurant he had dreamed about for years, Su Casa.
Sewell always felt that maintaining the quality of pizza in locations other than Chicago would be difficult — so for a long time he resisted several offers to franchise his deep-dish pizza operation.
But in 1976, Sewell gave in and sold the rights to his restaurant’s name and product. Today there are 110 Uno’s Pizzeria and Grill restaurants in 21 states, and there are also restaurants in United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Riccardo passed away in 1954 and Sewell died in 1990. Their original place of business — Uno’s at 29 E. Ohio — and the legendary product they developed — deep dish pizza — will undoubtedly survive us all.
Check it out for yourself. Uno’s is a five-minute walk from the Grand Avenue stop on the CTA’s Red Line.
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.