LINCOLN PARK — A pizzeria and cafe inspired by one of the owners’ Sicilian heritage is opening this week in Lincoln Park.
Ayo Pizza Café and Shop, from the owners of southern fare restaurant The Delta in Wicker Park, opens Wednesday at 953 W. Willow St.
The pizzeria is founded by hospitality veterans Eldridge Williams, Chris Scardina and Christian Sia, and it is one of the only minority-owned pizzerias on the North Side.
“We’re proud to be able to give the community a quality product and want people who look like us to know that this kind of opportunity is reachable and not beyond your grasp,” Williams said.
Ayo serves two types of pizza: traditional Sicilian pies, which are served by the slice, and entire Chicago tavern-style pizzas. The menu was designed by Sia, who said he wanted to merge Italian culture with American-style pizzas.
Scardina, who is half Sicilian and half African American, said parts of the menu are inspired by his family’s heritage.
“We have the Nonna Cappellano tomato pie, which is based on the eggplant parmesan my grandma used to make, but turned into a pizza,” Scardina said.
The dish, which is vegan, is topped by eggplant caponata, garlic breadcrumbs, basil redux, tomato sauce, Calabrian chili and ricotta. It costs $21 for a 14-inch pie.
“My great grandmother used to own a pizzeria, so my family is ecstatic,” Scardina said.
For dessert, Ayo offers a variety of sweets created by chef Heather Summers, including sweet potato tiramisu, hazelnut torta tenerina and vegan panettone muffins. Desserts are $3-$6.
Ayo has partnered with Dark Matter coffee to feature a full-service coffee bar, where guests can order coffee and specialty espresso drinks, as well as breakfast pastries.
Williams said they were inspired to bring coffee into their business after scouting the area and realizing it didn’t have many cafes.
“We looked around and saw this was a bustling corner with lots of foot traffic, but there weren’t any small, boutiquey, independent coffee shops in close proximity,” Williams said. “We saw a bit of a void, so we figured we should fill it.”
Scardina, who grew up in Lincoln Park, said he was inspired to bring the business to the neighborhood after learning the site’s previous business, Amato’s Pizza, was closing.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the neighborhood and grabbing slices of pizza at Amato’s as I grew up around the corner and played pick-up basketball on the courts nearby,” Scardina said.
Ayo is open 1-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Pizza and coffee service run all day, but the shop’s breakfast pastries will be served daily while supplies last.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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