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Part II: Catalyst for Change



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January 11th, 2023

Okay. Part two. Let’s set the scene: It was early in the spring of 2020, and we were coming out of a winter of record-breaking catering and delivery sales in Wicker Park and Wrigleyville. With warmer weather on the horizon, we were starting to ramp up for baseball and the busy summer season. We were ready to kill it.

We all know what happened instead.

When Governor Pritzker announced the stay-at-home order in Illinois and ordered restaurants and bars to stop in-store service until April, we weren’t exactly ready for it—but we’d seen it coming, at least somewhat.

Days later, after lots of video meetings and phone calls, we made the difficult decision to stop serving slices, our lifeblood and the core of our service model, in order to keep our team safe. We kept making pizza, of course, but our delivery and take out business didn’t make up for the losses we sustained without slice sales. With a lot less pizza to make, and the uncertain future hanging over our heads, we started thinking about what we wanted to do, what we could do, and what we should do for ourselves and everyone around us.

First, what we should do. We were compelled to help, and took stock of what we had: idle hands, idle pizza ovens, and access to industrial supplies. Where did those resources meet what people needed most? Face shields. So we started making them. In eight days (eight days!), Dimitri put together a production plan, supply list, and started us on a bizarre but incredible journey. We made like 5,000 face shields, donating them all over the place—to the VA hospital, local dental clinics and doctors’ offices, CPS schools and teachers, and the UIC hospital, among others.

Next, what we could do. We could stay informed, which we did to the best of our ability. We held daily meetings in those worrying first few weeks, where we caught each other up on the latest science and figured out how to adapt our safety precautions to that science. Within a day of the stay-at-home order, we posted statistics in our store windows, to hold ourselves and our community accountable to flattening the curve. Even though we only made enough window space to post statistics through June of 2020 (now that was optimistic!) we were real with ourselves that this might be around a while.

Finally, what we wanted to do. Survive, mostly. And keep the community and stability we’d come to rely on. To do that, we had to innovate—fast. Pretty immediately, we started selling BYO pizza kits, to inject some of the magic back into dinner at home. Sure, we gave away a few of our trade secrets…well, Dimitri did, every day on Instagram live. But that was a small price to pay for helping you distract the kids for forty-five minutes a day. We also started making take ‘n bake meals like lasagnas to feed the reluctant home cooks. And we got really into wine, sharing our discoveries with you courtesy of changes to alcohol delivery laws (great call, Illinois).

In the beginning, we were pretty much throwing ideas at the wall, but a lot of those ideas turned out to be hits. And it also turned out that we really like this part—the shaking it up part. So we kept right on doing it. It would have been great if a global pandemic wasn’t the catalyst for us breaking out of our slice-shaped shell, but we took those lemons, and damned if we’re not making lemonade in ever-cooler ways.

Now we’re almost caught up to the present, and to part three…but we’re saving that for next time.

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