SOUTH LOOP — Beginning Friday, the U.S. Pizza Museum is officially open in Chicago — take that, New York!
Created by Logan Square resident Kendall Bruns, the museum sits in a well-lit storefront at 1146 S. Delano Court inside the Roosevelt Collection shopping center in the South Loop.
Inside, the museum’s walls are lined with pizza boxes from across the country, pizza-themed pop culture memorabilia, information on the different styles and types of pizza and a wall paying homage to the city that is second-to-none when it comes to the beloved cheesy pie: Chicago.
Glass cases in the room’s center showcase artifacts like toys, old menus, dishes and pizza slicers. Merchandise like cheesy socks and pizza-shaped pool floaties decorate the entrance.
Though it’s not the first pizza museum in the nation, the collection’s home in Chicago has sparked a debate — and touched a nerve — among other cities.
But while some who live outside Chicago have decried the museum’s Midwest location, Bruns said he’s confident it’s in the right place.
“Chicago is an exceptionally great pizza town,” Bruns said. “Not only is there the history of creating deep-dish and stuffed pizza here, it also is home to so many different styles of pizza. You can get wood-fired pizza, coal-fired pizza, Detroit-style, New Haven-style — so that’s something that really makes Chicago unique.”
Bruns said he’s been drawn to pizza his entire life, getting his first job at a local pizza joint in Cincinnati. Inspired by Pizza Brain, a pizza museum and restaurant in Philadelphia, in 2012, he began to put serious thought behind the idea of displaying his own collection of artifacts.
His collection efforts picked up steam, and in 2015 Bruns founded the U.S. Pizza Museum, first launching it virtually via his website. In 2016, Bruns’ artifacts made its physical debut at the Chicago Pizza Summit.
Until now, only occasional pop-ups have allowed members of the public to physically share in the museum’s collection. It’s new brick and mortar home in the Roosevelt Collection shops now allows visitors to buy tickets in advance and reserve a spot in the museum.
According to Bruns, though outsiders often mistake deep-dish pizza for being the mainstream pie Chicagoans prefer, thin crust, tavern-style pizza is what should be considered the true Chicago-style pizza — something he believes is one of the major misconceptions when it comes to Chicago’s pizza reputation.
“The thin tavern-style pizza is really prevalent in Chicago in a way that would surprise people who don’t live here,” he said. “Places like Pat’s Pizza, which opened in 1950, or Vito and Nick’s, which has been open since the ‘40s, and bars long before then, that’s the kind of pizza that they started serving and cutting into little squares so people would stay. …I think for a lot of people, that is Chicago pizza.”
The opposite styles — thin-crust and deep-dish — aren’t mutually exclusive in Chicago’s pizzerias, either, Bruns said. Menus usually offer both.
“I want people [outside Chicago] to know about the thin, tavern pizza — but also that even in the category of deep-dish, there is a wide variety of approaches to make just that style,” he added.
While there is a focus on Chicago’s pizza history, Bruns said he’s just paying respect to the city where the museum was established. Bruns’ collection features pieces from many different states, each celebrating the traditional dish’s unique features and geographic nuances.
“No one would say there should only be one history museum, or one art museum, or one science museum,” he said. “I think there should be a pizza museum in every city, celebrating the pizza in that city and just pizza in general.”
In the future, Bruns said he has plans to hopefully expand at the space, potentially adding interactive elements to the displays, as well as classes, lectures and shows, if the public demonstrates an interest.
Ultimately, his goal is to unite and inspire through humanity’s shared love of the classic pizza pie.
“[Pizza] is such a versatile platform to work with,” he said. “At its core, you’ve got crust and sauce and cheese or other toppings that can be taken in so many directions because each of those elements in and of themselves can be approached so many ways. I think that people get attached to certain styles because because it’s a food even a picky kid will eat, so kids eat pizza when they’re little and then have these nostalgic memories that they grow up with.”
The U.S. Pizza Museum is open Fridays from 5-8 p.m., and weekends from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Check out some of the artifacts from the museum: