Fancy a deep dish from Chicago's Lou Malnati's? Peoria had one almost 40 years ago (2023)

Dean MuellerleileJournal star

Ask Deanis a Journal Star series that focuses on all things Peoria: its history, mysteries, quirks, and culture. Send your questions to

Ask:If I remember correctly, there was a Lou Malnati's in Sheridan Village a few years ago. Just picked up a package from a location in Joliet and I wish they had stuck. Is there a story behind it?— Sumner Bourne, Dunlap

Answer:However, like any Orthodox community, Peoria is passionate about pizzawhich style do you preferit is up for debate.

While some prefer a thin crust, others swear by itChicago styledeep plate.

The latter was a late, complaining local supplierLou Malnati's pizzeria.

The company's first location opened in Lincolnwood in 1971. Today there are78 storesin Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Arizona.

But for a short time, there was a Peoria location in Sheridan Village that offered "Chicagoland's Premier Pizza in the Pan."

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It was the chain's first venture in Illinois outside of the Chicago area. It may have been too ambitious. His deep dish may have been ahead of its time. Today, however, it is in betweenrestaurants Journal Star readers crave more.

A deep dive into JS's archives tells Lou Malnati's story in Peoria.

Lou Malnati's introduction

The first taste came in a short story in the Journal Star on Feb. 26, 1985: “Lou Malnati's Pizzeria closed within a week of signing a lease in Sheridan Village in the old Round Table restaurant, according to Rick Malnati, son of the founder of the company. and former Bradley University basketball player."

"...It will be the company's first restaurant in Lincolnwood."

A May 11 article added details: "The Peoria location will be the sixth Lou Malnati location in Illinois. The family also operates a Lou Malnati's in Newcastle, England." The story said the restaurant would open next Monday.

"A Gift From Chicago"

It didn't take long for the Journal Star to appreciate the new pizzeria. Under the headline "Malnati's Pizzeria, a gift from Chicago," a June 7 restaurant review noted mozzarella cheese "so thick it looks like it's been smeared with a plaster trowel" and "hamburger-sized chunks of sausage on each slice." A large cheese and sausage pizza cost $10.95. The waitresses were "decked out in Cub jerseys".

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"Mabel" and "The Fridge"

Until the end of September, Malnati's advertised a $3.65 lunch: Mabel's Marvelous Mouthwatering Meals. Among the lunch specials were "BBQ Ribs (worth queuing for)." (More on that later.)

The pizzeria hosted performances by basketball player Bradley and free throw games. Keeping with the sports theme, the aforementioned Mabel - now inexplicably spelled "Mable" - is back in an ad "Challenging You To Eat A Large Pizza And Become A Chartered Member Of Peoria's 1st And Only William 'The Refrigerator' Perry Fan Club" Induction Includes a free XXXXLarge Bear t-shirt." (Whether anyone succeeded is unknown, but Perry and the Bears wonSuper Bowl XX.)

(The mysterious Mabel was identified in a later Journal Star story about the second annual Rib Bib Cookoff: "In third place was Mabel Griffin, a cook at Lou Malnati's pizzeria. Mabel was clearly a woman of many talents.)

Peorians preferred Pizza Hut

In May 1986, Malnati's bought an advertisement in the Journal Star thanking customers for the welcome it received during its first year of operation. But apparently some Peorians were notThatfront desk.

A June article in the Journal Star reported the results of a reader request for "The Best in the Tri-Counties." According to the story - and in a sign of the times (pre-internet) - there were "dozens of responses".

More from the story: "Best pizza? This may come as a surprise to you. While Lou Malnati's Pizzeria came in a close second, we found that more people prefer the taste of Pizza Hut pan pizza." (For the record, "Others voted for Vince's in Morton, Agatucci's, Monical's, Davis Brothers (formerly in East Peoria), and the 408 Club at 408 Garden St.)"

Malnati received some reader redemption in an August Journal Star "Your Opinion" article that asked "What's your favorite restaurant in the Peoria area?" Peoriian Margo Marx replied, "Lou Malnati's is great. They have the best spinach salad in the world. Their soup is a meal in itself." It is unknown if Mabel made the soup.

Peoria-pizza:The best of the best pizzerias in the Peoria area, as voted by readers

A setback and a new offer

Malnati's suffered a temporary setback in September 1986. The Peoria Liquor Commission found the company guilty of failing to pay and file hotel, restaurant and entertainment taxes. However, the restaurant paid its back taxes before a hearing.

In a concession to Peoria preferences, Malnati's advertised in March 1987 "NEW THIN CRUST PIZZA. ALL THE TASTE OF CHICAGO'S DEEP PAN STYLE PIZZA, THIN CRUSH PEORIA LOVES IT!"

Problems with money?

On September 1, 1987, the Journal Star reported, “The parent company of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, which opened two years ago in Sheridan Village, has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization of the federal bankruptcy law.

“But the pizzeria manager, who declined to be named, said the restaurant would remain open.

"We're making more money now than ever before. We don't expect to close," he said.

The end of Malnati's in Peoria

On October 19, 1987, a Journal Star story reported, “This famous Chicago-style pizza will no longer be served at Lou Malnati's, 4125 N. Sheridan.

"The pizzeria is closed on Sunday due to financial problems," said franchise president Robert Hoerner.

“The company filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law in early fall. R&M Mal, Inc. has debts of $279,933 and assets of $63,270.

“…The company name, Malnati's, is owned by Mark and Rick Malnati, Hoerner said. Malnati's has six other Malnati's restaurants in the United States and one in Newcastle, England.

"Before the restaurant opened two years ago, the Malnati family spent $500,000 renovating 4,000 square feet of the former Lum's restaurant in Sheridan Village."

It was the end of the line for Malnati's in Peoria. Neither the ambitious remodeling, addition of thin crust, nor Mabel's culinary magic was enough to secure the location.

Malnati looks back at Malnati

In a recent interview, Rick Malnati added some details about the operation of the restaurant in Peoria.

"We chose Peoria because I knew the city well," he said. "I had played basketball there with Bradley from '78-'81 and I loved the city. I was a big fan of Agatucci when I was there, but there was no deep dish pizza like ours. A fraternity brother who was in the restaurant business , approached me and my brother about franchising a place down there, and we did…”

"We brought a lot of employees from Chicago to Peoria for the opening of the restaurant. I stayed for at least the first two months and business was fantastic. When the store started to slow down from opening, I don't think the operators acted fast enough and they were a little bit undercapitalized, and that was the reason for the closure."

Malnati said Mabel was one of those employees in Chicago. "(She) liked the pace of Peoria compared to where she lived in Chicago. She wanted to stay there and work. ... She had a bigger personality."

Of Mabel's pizza challenge, she said, "There are people who have eaten a very large deep dish of Malnati, but not many!"

He said the odd location in Newcastle, England was also a franchise deal. "The British loved to eat. It was a bit unusual for them then."

Malnati embarked on a successful career as onehigh school and college basketball coach. "I've stopped training at the moment and I'm following Malnati and what we're doing there now," he added.

Related:Peoria 'like home' for Fenwick coach Rick Malnati

Gone but not forgotten

Lou Malnati's love still runs deep in Peoria. December 2021historyof restaurants they'd like to see open here, Journal Star readers voted Malnati's the second most-wanted pizzeria, behind only Giordano's. Peoria Malnati's remains a hot topicFacebook.

Submit yours:If you have any questions about Peoria, ask Dean. He has been working here for a quarter of a century

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