Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy birthday, pizza matriarch Jean Malnati

Jean Malnati, center, with sons Rick, left, and Marc.
     We had a nickname for my Grandma Sarah: “The Christ Child.” Please forgive the blasphemy. But she was born on Christmas Day, and certainly adored. Besides, it wasn’t our religion we were playing loose and weird with.
     People born on Christmas get their celebrations lost in the glare of the holiday. Even those born near the holiday. In some ways, they have it worse. All the preparations, the distractions, and not even the quiet of Christmas Day. Add COVID, when all our birthdays are denied the attention they deserve.
     And some individuals really deserve attention.
     Where to begin? Let’s start in 1980, with the great Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason sitting in the Bears locker room, amidst the discarded tape and sweaty socks, having a post-game chat. Gleason brings up Brian Piccolo, the Bears running back who died of cancer 10 years earlier, at age 26.
     “What made you think of Brian?” he is asked.
     Gleason replies he always thinks of Brian this time of year. Someone makes it easy for him to remember.
     “He is garlanded with fresh flowers, a gentle hero among us,” Gleason later wrote, “because a lady who is beautiful on the inside as well as on the outside throws a party for him every autumn.”
     That lady is Jean Malnati, who with her husband, Lou, founded Lou Malnati’s Pizza in 1971. She is one of those unfortunates whose birthday (Dec. 22) falls around Christmas.
     “We’ll always have the Brian Piccolo Scholarship Party,” Jean told Gleason, 40 years ago. “I’ve never given a thought to discontinuing it.”

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  1. Yes...a very Happy Birthday. Thanks to you and Lou I overly enjoyed (some may say "wasted") my youth at Uno's, Due's and Malnatis. My wife have had several parties in the basement over the years and still enjoy our private, special occasions at your handiwork. Still do, only now it's take-out.
    Paul and Jill Schoenwetter

  2. I double checked. This isn't in the paper today. Tomorrow?

    My youngest sister's birthday was yesterday. She's 65 now and still resents getting cheated out of presents past and present. I timed my birthday better, being almost right in the middle between Christmasses, the same as Neil's.


  3. The photo shows a very very busy pizza, that doesn't much resemble the simple 2-ingredient pizza the little mustachioed nuns at Mt. Carmel College served us seminarians more than 60 years ago.


    1. C'mon, Tate! Busy? You look at that photo and think "busy?" Uh, awesome, fantastic, mouth-watering -- any of those will do. Having looked at that photo several times has just made me wish I were at Burt's Place every time I've seen it. But, really, I'm pretty much an equal-opportunity pizza enjoyer. I'm guessing the 2-ingredient pie at the seminary would have been fine by me, along with all the top-notch Malnati-family versions.

      (This exchange will seem somewhat weird in the future, if there is one, when the pizza photo no longer accompanies this post, though.)

    2. It's a Burt's pizza. I figured, it was more interesting, and I'm always too busy eating Lou Malnati's to take a photo.

    3. It took me 15 minutes -- after reading the article -- to recognize it as pizza. At first glance, I thought it was some version of the "skillets" that are offered at the restaurants I frequent.


    4. Good one, I can see that. Past references to your general neighborhood, coupled with the impression left by these comments, inspire me to ask, John -- are you a fan of Vito and Nick's? When I see lists of great Chicago pizza places, that's the one I've not been to that I most would like to visit.


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