WATCH: Wicker Park pizza place thrives with back-to-basics approach

Paulie Gee's Pizza
Slices of pizza at Paulie Gee’s in Wicker Park on Nov. 9. (Adam Babetski/MEDILL)

By Adam Babetski
Medill Reports

Many of Chicago’s small businesses have been forced to close in recent years due to the lasting economic effects of the pandemic. The Wicker Park location of Paulie Gee’s, a local pizza chain, has survived the changes by simplifying its menu and hiring process.


Adam Babetski: Paulie Gee’s in Wicker Park has become a success story during a difficult time for businesses. The restaurant opened amidst the pandemic in 2020 as the small pizza chain’s second location in Chicago.

Manager and co-founder Tony Dezutter said that his store has benefitted from offering a simpler menu than other Paulie Gee’s locations.


Tony Dezutter: There’s one Caesar salad, the pizza and then the slices. Nothing else. We do some specialty items, like calzones we do on Thursdays, but outside of that, it’s just bare-bones. It’s Wicker Park — it’s a lot of foot traffic, a lot of bars around here, the Blue Line’s right there so you get everybody coming off of there. We just wanted something quick and easy.


Babetski: Paulie Gee’s simplicity extends to its restaurant operations. Dezutter said that his store sets itself apart from the crowded Chicago pizza scene by providing efficient service.


Dezutter: It becomes less of a long-term kind of thing and becomes a very, like, we’re able to get people trained up and in positions within a week. For most places, it takes a while to learn every station. Here, you can learn the entire restaurant in maybe two weeks.


Babetski: Former Chicago resident Matt Wenzel stopped at Paulie Gee’s when he was back in town because he associates the brand with quality and convenience.


Matt Wenzel: I got off the train today, I needed a meal after I just got in from the airport. I was walking by, I was like, “Oh, there’s a Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park, I’ll stop in and have a slice,” because I have a really good experience with the award-winning pizza at the other location. 


Babetski: Dezutter hopes to retain his employees long-term by being transparent about the restaurant’s operations with them. Employees share a 15% service fee, which is divided equally amongst them after shifts. 


Dezutter: So making sure that they’re, they don’t have a lot of questions that go unanswered and that they know exactly what struggles or what positive forces have been affecting the restaurant.


Babetski: In Wicker Park, I’m Adam Babetski for Medill Reports.

Adam Babetski is a graduate investigative journalism student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski or connect with him on LinkedIn.