Shuttered Gino's East in Libertyville becoming Antioch Pizza Shop franchise
Pizza will be on the menu again at the former Gino's East in Libertyville, the first venture in a new career for a longtime cybersecurity professional with cooking in his DNA.
The interior of what customers may recall as a labyrinth space at 820 S. Milwaukee Ave. has been gutted and is being reconfigured as Antioch Pizza Shop by franchisees John and Chandra Hampson.
The Antioch residents are familiar with the signature-style thin, crispy crust at the original location that opened in 1977 on Route 59 just south of Route 173.
"We've had plenty as consumers," said John Hampson, a Westmont native. "It's the pizza I grew up with."
Besides a career change for Hampson, what will be Antioch Pizza's eighth location also marks a new path for Art Wicklein, another Antioch resident and former corporate executive, who bought the original location in 2008 and now is looking to expand the brand through franchising to 13 states.
Hampson, who spent 19 years as a senior vice president and chief information officer for American Enterprise Bank, always had a passion for food.
"I've been cooking since I was about 10. It's become a lifelong dream to own a restaurant," he said.
That accelerated after winning Cook of the Year in the Daily Herald's contest finale in 2016 with a pork roulade stuffed with barley and kale.
He was pegged to be part of a Gordon Ramsey television series, but the show was canceled after its summer run and the opportunity with it.
In early 2020, the Hampsons began looking for various franchising opportunities.
"Antioch Pizza always offered benefits to kids who did well in school," said Chandra. "We began scouring the areas where it would work."
Chandra, a pharmaceutical representative who often is on the road, came upon the former Gino's East, which closed over four years ago.
"This is where we knew we wanted to be," she said. The building occupies the end space in Cambridge Plaza shopping center across busy Milwaukee Avenue from Advocate Condell Medical Center.
At first the property owner wanted them to occupy the a 4,800-square-foot space, according to John Hampson. But that wasn't in the business plan that called for a self-service operation with about 40 seats.
Hampson said he suggested taking a portion of the building. Talks stalled but resumed in early 2022, when Hampson's idea was accepted. Negotiations continued for about a year before a lease was signed. Antioch Pizza will occupy 3,000 square feet.
"It took a lot of patience," Hampson said. "We came to a solution that made sense to both of us."
Interior demolition is complete, and various systems are being roughed in, in advance of village inspections and the buildout. A midsummer opening is planned.
The new operation will feature eight pizza ovens, a 16-foot farm table in the middle of the dining area and a 16-tub "dipping cabinet" with Cedar Crest ice cream from Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
Antioch Pizza also is known for double-decker and stuffed pizzas, pastas and sandwiches.
The template for the Libertyville location is the corporate-owned store No. 6 in Woodstock. Other locations are in Lindenhurst, Fox Lake, and McHenry, plus in Paddock Lake and Burlington in Wisconsin,
Wicklein said he and his wife, Karen, decided to buy the original location as a hedge during the Great Recession.
"We needed a backup plan if something happened with our careers," he said.
He had shifted from mechanical engineer to supply-chain director and created a 10-point checklist of what business would work.
"I came from a long line of entrepreneurs. I knew I wanted to be in business, I just didn't know what," Wicklein said.
When he learned the original location was up for sale, the couple opted to take the plunge on pizza, which both grew up eating as kids in Antioch. He kept the corporate job until 2014 but didn't plan on opening a second store.
The franchising idea evolved after a friend from grade school also seeking a career change asked for advice. Others followed.
The goal now is to continue in Illinois and Wisconsin and add Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Texas and Florida to the mix.