'Nothing's gonna change about Malnati's': Founder's son affirms family's commitment
Amid a report of a possible sale, the owner of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria said Tuesday that he and his family are committed to staying in the pizza business and growing the iconic brand through further expansion.
Owner Marc Malnati, whose father, Lou, opened the chain's first restaurant in Lincolnwood 50 years ago, declined to directly address the April 9 Bloomberg News report that the company's backers are exploring options including a sale. Shareholders, which include the Malnati family and BDT Capital Partners, are working with an adviser and could decide to sell out completely, add a new shareholder or keep its existing structure, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.
But in an interview with the Daily Herald, Malnati sought to assure consumers of his family's commitment to the business, their plans to grow it locally, regionally and nationally, and that further expansion wouldn't hinder quality of their product.
"You don't make it 50 years in this business if you're not focused on excellence. And our goal is to make it another 50. I might not be here, but we're all about staying power," said Malnati, who runs the business with his brother Rick from their company office in Northbrook. "We're all about trying to do this and do something great for a long period of time."
Malnati added that he, his brother and their longtime business partners have children who may be interested in carrying on the operation for a third generation.
"I think we're in good hands," he said. "Nothing's gonna change about Malnati's."
Despite the pandemic, the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza chain has continued its gradual expansion throughout the suburbs and in new markets, now with more than 60 locations. It started carryout and delivery service from an Oakbrook Terrace location last year, and opened a full-service restaurant there in recent weeks.
As part of its Midwest expansion strategy, Lou Malnati's opened stores in recent months in the Indianapolis area, where it now has two, and the Milwaukee area, where it has three.
Hoping to cater to Chicago transplants, the brand launched in Arizona in 2016. There's now four pizzerias in the Phoenix area.
Malnati said delivery and curbside pickup services grew over the course of the pandemic, while dining rooms were closed, but perhaps the biggest growth the company has seen is in its Tastes of Chicago e-commerce division, which tripled in size.
The company started the direct-to-consumer operation in the late 1980s, then added other iconic Chicago brands like Portillo's, Lettuce Entertain You and Eli's Cheesecake 15 years ago.
"There were a lot of people from Chicago who went to other towns to get through COVID, went somewhere warmer, and they needed their fix. That business dramatically increased," Malnati said. "Because we have different channels for selling the product, we weathered the storm probably better than most."
Growth in and out of the Chicago market was envisioned when the Malnati family sold an undisclosed stake to BDT in 2016.
Malnati said the quality and consistency of the product is maintained across the brand, from the team that goes store to store to do employee training to the group that sources ingredients to make the famous pizzas.
"We are so keyed in to quality. Every year we send a crew of guys out to California to just sit there and wait until the tomato crop is just perfect," Malnati said. "They'll taste, they'll watch, they'll see how red the tomatoes are, how sweet they are, how plump, and then they'll say, 'OK, go,' and we'll create our batch of tomatoes for the entire year when the tomatoes are at their absolute sweetest.
"And I don't think smaller companies can afford to do that. It's given us some great opportunities to invest in the highest quality possible."