MAYFAIR — At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Nadine Karavidas already had plans A, B, C and D lined up to make sure her staff felt safe to weather what was to come.
Karavidas, owner of Marie’s Pizza and Liquors at 4127 W. Lawrence Ave., put into motion coronavirus restrictions right away. She closed the dining area, installed plexiglass in her liquor store and switched to curbside pickup and no-contact delivery options.
Another one of Karavidas’ plans was to use her back parking lot to give customers a taste of Marie’s outdoors and take advantage of summer after a depressing few months in spring 2020.
“How can I create an experience out of asphalt, cinderblock and vintage brick?” Karavidas said.
The answer: A vibrant and colorful outdoor plaza that serves as a place for folks to eat the thin-crust, tavern-style pizza Marie’s is known for and catch up with friends and family.
The patio features 10 red picnic tables hand-painted by Karavidas; a giant, colorful mural painted by local artist Bri’s Brushes; umbrellas and 40 tomato plants that line the perimeter of the lot. It opened in September but had to close for the winter.
Now, the patio — dubbed The Piazza — has reopened for summer. Karavidas called it “a great pivot” and one that has attracted all kinds of folks, but especially families with children, since they are not vaccinated yet and families might not feel comfortable dining indoors at restaurants.
“I feel really proud that we accomplished this … . You’re supposed to feel like you rode your Vespa over here,” she said.
The Italian theme is completed with calming Italian guitar music playing in the background and white and blue Peroni Beer umbrellas at each table.
“It was a parking lot, and we put a lot of thought into how we can do this on no money because we had already hit the pandemic,” Karavidas said. “It was whatever I could scrape together that we could do in stages, that’s how we did it.”
The city and state fully reopened last week, but Karavidas said Marie’s Pizza is not yet ready to reopen its dining room. The piazza provides suitable alternatives for customers, she said — and she can bring out larger chairs or accommodate different seating arrangements upon request.
Along with the piazza comes a special menu that can only be ordered through the restaurant’s side door. Karavidas is calling it the Light Fare for the Piazza menu, which has an array of Italian street food such as mini pizzas, a fried ravioli combo, bruschetta and desserts such as cannoli, Italian ice and raspberry tartufo. An array of cold beverages are also available.
People can order in person from the piazza menu or call ahead to order from the full menu and can pick up food by entering the liquor store to then go eat it on the piazza. Marie’s is still offering no-contact delivery and curbside pickup.
“Once they understand the piazza concept and see what a great bargain that is, then those people are really jazzed about this,” Karavidas said.
The piazza, kitchen and liquor store are open 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-8 p.m. Sundays.
Karavidas said live music, a signature of the restaurant, will return outside Thursday.
Ald. Sam Nugent (39th), whose office just a few blocks from the restaurant, said Marie’s Pizza and Liquors is a 39th Ward institution.
“With their famous pizza, classic car show, and iconic holiday decoration display, Nadine and the team at Marie’s are a huge draw on Chicago’s Northwest Side,” Nugent said in a statement.
Marie’s is one of Chicago’s oldest pizzerias. It opened in 1940 as a tavern and packaged goods store, and in 1950 it expanded to serving thin-crust pizza. Karavidas took over as owner and president of the family-run corporation in 2008 after having worked there since 1971 on and off.
Next month will mark Karavidas’ 51st year working at Marie’s, she said. Through all the ups and downs from the past year, she said she feels blessed everyone at the restaurant has stayed healthy and is grateful for the community support and understanding.
“I wake up every day grateful, just grateful because we are all healthy.”
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