LOGAN SQUARE — A furloughed restaurant server has launched a pan pizza delivery business out of a commercial kitchen in Logan Square — and his pizzas, made in the style of iconic pizza-maker Burt Katz, are flying out the door.
Robert Maleski has sold out of pizza every day since he launched his business, Milly’s Pizza In The Pan, about two weeks ago.
“I always try to make lemonade out of lemons,” Maleski said. “I’ve always wanted to do this. I saw [the furlough] as an opportunity to … go for it.”
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants across the Chicago area in March, Maleski, 40, was furloughed by his employer, Seasons 52, a restaurant in suburban Schaumburg.
After working for restaurants for 16 years, Maleski, originally from Winnetka, decided it was time to fulfill his years-long dream of opening his own restaurant. He initially tried to open a brick-and-mortar pizza joint in Evanston, but those plans fell through.
“It’s really hard to get funding when you’re a brand new restaurant and you don’t have the experience or numbers to back you,” he said.
Maleski instead opted for a “ghost kitchen” at Envision Unlimited Westtown Center, 1801 N. Spaulding Ave. in Logan Square. “Ghost kitchens” are commercial kitchens that are run like a restaurant, but they don’t offer dine-in service. Maleski shares his space with other entrepreneurs.
“It’s a lot cheaper way to get into the restaurant industry, a good way to test your product to see if it’s going to be successful,” Maleski said.
Milly’s Pizza In The Pan is a one-man operation. Maleski shops for fresh ingredients, then makes the dough and the sauce by hand, bakes the pizza and boxes it up when it’s time to hand it off to third-party delivery drivers.
On a personal level, Maleski was inspired by his grandmother, Emily, who went by Milly. He named the business after her.
“She inspired me to cook when I was young,” he said. “She would always be making everything from scratch. When I’d go over there, I’d sit in the kitchen and watch her. That’s how we’d spend time together.”
As far as the pizza goes, Maleski was inspired by Katz, the late founder of Burt’s Place in suburban Morton Grove and original owner of Pequod’s Pizza in Lincoln Park, who many consider the king of pan pizza.
Maleski ate at Burt’s two years ago and couldn’t get Katz’s pizza out of his head. He spent months trying to create his own version, testing dough hydration levels and sauce recipes — before and after his shifts at Seasons 52.
“Once I tried his pizza, I felt like that was the best pizza I had ever had in my life and I had to know how to make it,” he said.
Like Katz’s pizza, Maleski’s pizza is more dense and has more sauce than a traditional pizza. Maleski uses an electric convection oven, as opposed to Katz’s deck oven, to create Milly’s frico crust.
“The entire rim [is] whole-milk mozzarella cheese that’s been carmelized on the back end of the crust,” he said. “It’s to die for, the best part of the pizza.”
Maleski can crank out about 20 pizzas a day on his own. Relying only on social media and word of mouth, Maleski usually sells out first thing in the morning. He only offers advance ordering to account for the time it takes for the pizzas to bake.
If business continues at this rate, Maleski said he plans to hire an employee to help him run the business and increase capacity. He said he’d still like to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant when the timing is right.
After being furloughed in March, Maleski said “it feels amazing” to see this level of success early on.
“I am covering all of my expenses, which I’m surprised by,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be making money off the bat. I thought it’d be a slow go. People are really generous toward restaurants right now.”
Milly’s Pizza In The Pan offers carryout and delivery. Orders can be made online.
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