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10 Deep Facts You Might Not Know About Uno Pizzeria and Grill

Love Chicago-style deep-dish pizza? You have Uno’s to thank for it.

1. FOUNDER IKE SEWELL INTENDED TO OPEN A MEXICAN RESTAURANT.

Former All-American football player at University of Texas at Austin and native Texan Ike Sewell missed Mexican food when a job as a liquor salesman took him to Chicago. He partnered with World War II vet Ric Riccardo with plans to open the city’s first authentic Mexican restaurant. But when they were testing menu options, Riccardo got so sick off an enchilada he insisted they ditch the Mexican food altogether.

2. UNO’S IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF DEEP-DISH PIZZA.

Inspired by his time serving in Italy, Riccardo suggested that the pair should opt for a pizza restaurant, instead. There was already plenty of pizza in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood and Sewell was concerned that it wasn’t unique enough—or substantial enough. In an effort to make pizza more like the hearty enchiladas he’d anticipated, they devised a thick crust pie filled with plenty of sauce and cheese. (There is some debate about whether the two founders—who were rarely if ever seen in the kitchen—came up with the iconic dish, or if it was someone else on staff.)

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED JUST “THE PIZZERIA.”

In 1943, Sewell and Riccardo opened their deep-dish pizza place in the basement of an old mansion on Ohio Street. At the time, it was called simply The Pizzeria and Chicagoans came mostly for the bar—that is, until free slices of deep dish quickly converted them. It was briefly known as “Riccardo’s Pizzeria,” and didn’t get “Uno” in the name until there was a “Due.”

4. THERE IS A PIZZERIA DUE.

Eventually, their deep dish became so popular that Sewell opened a second location just a few blocks away in 1955. To distinguish between the two, the original was renamed Pizzeria Uno and the offshoot was christened Pizzeria Due. In 1963, Sewell finally realized his original dream and opened Su Casa, Chicago’s first upscale Mexican restaurant.

5. SEWELL DIDN’T FRANCHISE, BUT HE DID HOLD ON TO THE ORIGINAL LOCATIONS.

For many years there were just the two: Pizzerias Uno and Due, located just a few blocks apart in Chicago. A businessman named Aaron Spencer, who owned a number of KFC locations, started asking Sewell for permission to purchase franchise rights in the mid-1970s. By 1979, Spencer had convinced Sewell to let him take the brand national. His Uno Restaurant Corporation opened locations across the country, but Sewell remained in charge of Pizzeria Uno, Pizzeria Due, and Su Casa until his death in 1990.

6. THE ORIGINAL TWO STAYED TRUE TO SEWELL’S VISION.

In 2005—long after Sewell died and his widow sold the chain—what was by then known as Uno Chicago Grill announced plans to lighten up their menu. Almost all 200 locations around the world would start offering low-calorie alternatives to the deep-dish pizza. The exceptions were those first two restaurants in Chicago. The original location of Pizzeria Uno along with Pizzeria Due were allowed to stick to tradition and continue to serve just the hearty deep-dish.

7. PIZZERIA UNO LOST FOOD WARS—BUT TO A DIRECT DESCENDANT.

Although Pizzeria Uno was the first to serve deep-dish to Chicago, it’s been long debated whether it was the best. In 2010, the Travel Channel's Food Wars decided to settle the matter once and for all by pitting Pizzeria Uno against Lou Malnati's, a Chicago-area staple since the 1970s. Unfortunately for tradition’s sake, the older Pizzeria Uno lost out to Malnati’s—but the twist is, one could not have existed without the other. Lou Malnati himself worked at Pizzeria Uno for 22 years, perfecting the Chicago deep dish, before branching out to open his own restaurant.

8. UNO’S GIVES BACK TO THE TROOPS—IN PIZZA.

Throughout December 2012, Uno’s offered coupon books for sale for $5 each. The money from the sales funded a non-profit organization, Pizzas 4 Patriots, that delivered 10,000 Uno’s pies to troops in Afghanistan for the Super Bowl. It wasn’t the first time the two organizations had partnered up. By then, they’d shipped some 50,000 pizzas to be shared by over 200,000 soldiers.

9. ALL THAT CHEESE AND BUTTERY CRUST ADDS UP.

Adds up to what? Try 1750 calories for a single serving of just a cheese and tomato deep dish. The Chicago Classic, which includes crumbled sausage in between the mozzarella cheese and chunky tomato sauce clocks in at 2300, which is considered more than a full day's worth of calories. And the sundae served deep-dish style comes in at 2700.

10. THERE'S A "FAST CASUAL" SPINOFF.

Uno Due Go is the fast casual spinoff designed for diners on the go. The menu is more general, featuring baked goods, sandwiches, salads, and even thin crust pizza. For now, the only standalone UDG—as it’s known—is located in downtown Boston, with locations in several universities and airports, as well. However, Uno Restaurant Holdings announced a plan last year to open additional locations throughout New England in the coming years.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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