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The deep end

Is deep-dish pizza an endangered species?

Boots quaked when Pizzeria Uno’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month—the boots of anybody who still eats deep dish, that is. But as Uno’s problems hint at, that brand of pizza fan is in decline. And they may be bringing deep-dish down with them.

Uno, along with its sister restaurant Pizzeria Due, is still making money, insists Uno senior vice president of marketing Rick Hendrie. But one only has to look at recent pizza openings in Chicago to see that deep dish is waning. The chatter in this town has been about Great Lake, Spacca Napoli, Nella Pizzeria Napoletana—all thin-crust spots. The last local deep-dish joint to get big buzz was Burt’s Place—and that opened more than 20 years ago.

Thin crust took off, in part, as a reaction to deep dish: With chains like Giordano’s, Uno, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s, and independents like Art of Pizza and Pequod’s covering the deep-dish market, thin pizza was a breath of fresh air. Furthermore, making thin crust is quicker and cheaper. There’s significantly less cheese on thin crust, which accounts for much of a pizza’s cost. And without those extra pounds of ingredients, the pies take less time to bake. (A pie at Nella Pizzeria is done in 78 seconds; deep dish typically takes upwards of half an hour.) It’s also healthier, something that isn’t lost on the deep-dish folks. Deep dish has become “an indulgence,” Hendrie says, compared to thin-crust pizzas, which are lower in cholesterol and fat. (To meet demand for “lighter” fare, Pizzeria Uno put flatbread pizzas and grilled sandwiches on its menu.)

There are, of course, still many proponents of deep dish, and they won’t go down without a fight. Mod Pizza, the still-young spot in the West Loop, is trying to keep the Chicago tradition alive. “Chicago is known for Chicago-style pizza, so we offer it,” says owner Madison Drake. Still, its thin crust sells significantly better.

A sign of deep dish’s impending demise? Maybe. But the next oversaturated market segment could be thin crust. Scott Harris, co-owner of the Francesca’s Restaurants and Nella, thinks there are enough pizzerias of any kind in the city. “I think it’s baked, done,” he says. “There’s enough.”

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