/Gabriele Bonci To Open a Pizzeria In Chicago

Gabriele Bonci To Open a Pizzeria In Chicago

Gabriele Bonci at Chef’s Club by Food & Wine

When Rome’s premier baker Gabriele Bonci hosted a pizza making workshop at Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC a few years back, chefs and bakers flew from across America to attend. On that same trip, Bonci and I hosted a way-beyond-sold-out dinner in Brooklyn, while last year, the Roman pizzaiolo packed the house at pop-ups at Chef’s Club by Food & Wine and Semilla. There’s no question that Gabriele Bonci has a hard core following in the US–and indeed across the globe–but he has a long way to go before becoming a household name in America.

He may be poised to change that with the launch of Bonci USA, a company co-founded with Rick Tasman, former chief operating officer of P.F. Chang’s, and Chakib Touhami, former director of operations for Flip Burger Boutique and a veteran of the dining industry. The trio is set to open their first pizzeria in Chicago’s West Loop just steps from Google in the summer of 2017 and they have their sights on NYC, Philly, and beyond.

Sheet pans filled with Bonci’s pizza by the slice

Bonci already enjoys celebrity status in Italy where his 500-square-foot pizza by the slice joint has been a pilgrimage destination for gastronomic travelers for nearly a decade. Now in its fourteenth year of operation, Pizzarium was only put on the global map after Vogue called Bonci “the Michelangelo of dough”, a moniker that alludes to the baker’s artistic approach to dough and toppings and his venue’s proximity to the Vatican. Ever since, hordes of travelers, food professionals, and locals have visited Pizzarium eager to try the newest dough (it changes regularly) and seasonal toppings (many change daily) and generally to be inspired by Roman fast food elevated to an art form. In spite of his fame, Bonci’s business has grown slowly and been mainly focused in Rome: in 2012 he opened his eponymous bakery on Via Trionfale, while last year he opened a shop inside a Carrefour supermarket in the Flaminio district as well as a production and retail space in the nascent Mercato Centrale.

Bonci’s TV and food festival appearances have delivered his food and message across Italy, but his retail operations have remained rather small (in light of his outsized reputation) until now, due to the numerous economic, operational, and management hurdles involved in running what is largely a mom-and-pop business. Tasman and Touhami bring a much more sophisticated business approach to the table, as well as operational experience that is aimed as scaling businesses. How will this jive with or depart from the ethos of Rome’s top artisanal pizza shop? In a recent phone conversation, Tasman pledged his devotion to preserving Pizzarium’s quality and to respecting Bonci’s philosophy.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle Bonci USA faces is indoctrinating diners to a distinctly Roman style of pizza. Slowly, the style has begun to make headway and the nerdy and niche pizza world of America has been experimenting with it at places like My Pie in Manhattan, Eataly in NYC and Chicago, and Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco. There’s even a Pizzarium knock-off in Miami. Pam Yung, the undisputed ambassador for Bonci-style pizza in America, has introduced pizza al taglio to diners on the East and West Coasts and Rick Easton has brought it to Pittsburg and NYC, so let’s hope this affinity for sheet pan pies reaches the Mid-West*. Beginning in a city where the local Chicago-style is a grotesque calorie and cholesterol bomb that begs for a side of Tums seems risky. Will Chicago be hungry for Bonci’s super digestible, highly creative, natural pizza? We’re about 5 months away from finding out.

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*NOT a dig on the Mid West, y’all! Just drawing distinction between regional Roman style, which isn’t even that popular in Italy, and presenting challenge of getting a large number of consumers to embrace this distinctive approach.

2017-03-16T13:37:42+00:00 February 3rd, 2017|Categories: America, Carbs, Food & Wine, Pizza, Rome & Lazio|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Elise February 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    West Loop seems like the perfect spot for this place – excited to try it!

  2. Justin Naylor February 10, 2017 at 3:36 am - Reply

    I wish I felt excited, but I guess I’m kind of sad. I don’t have much regard for the results of “scaling up”. Seems like a recipe for mediocrity. Unless Bonci himself moves permanently to Chicago and operates the pizzeria, is it likely to preserve the character that makes Pizzarium so special, especially when Americans have such un-Italian views about pizza and won’t demand quality? Maybe I’m just feeling cynical at the moment, but it makes me mad when a beautiful thing is ruined by the economic madness of expansion. Tasman might be in earnest about trying to preserve Bonci’s philosophy, but I think it’s naive. You can’t mass produce quality. We don’t need a pizza al taglio version of P.F. Chang’s.

    • Katie Parla February 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm - Reply

      vediamo e speriamo bene…

  3. AYKAN DEMIROGLU February 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Great news. Chicago is a shorter trip than Rome to get my fix of Bonci’s pizza al taglio. I hope D.C. is in consideration as well. Love Roman style pizza!

  4. Elizabeth Magnuson February 23, 2017 at 5:25 am - Reply

    As long as his pizza is pure thin, crispy crust with simple ingredients ( not a boat load of 5+ items on a thick doughy pizza or cut into a square which is Not true Italian! ) , then I will embrace this chef and sing o mio babbino caro to him!
    Viva Italia!

  5. Dave March 1, 2017 at 3:24 am - Reply

    Do you know how to apply for a job at the new West Loop spot?

    • Katie Parla March 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      hey dave, i don’t get the impression they are at the hiring stage yet so i suggest signing up to the newsletter via the Bonci USA site: http://bonciusa.com/

  6. Mary Lou May 15, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I just signed up for the newsletter! Thank you!

  7. Raymond Bianchi May 15, 2017 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    You know the calorie bomb is not all we have in Chicago. I would suggest you try out Freddy’s Pizza in Cicero it is as g ood as anything that Bonci makes and it is in a neighborhood where actual Chicagoans live as opposed to the west loop. http://www.freddyspizza.com/

  8. David D October 23, 2017 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Having sampled the pizza at Pizzarium and now at Bonci Chicago, I can report that the quality is pretty high at the new spot, if not exactly the same. I can’t judge which is better as both are excellent. We went at an odd time in Rome (February in the morning) and at an odd time in Chicago (5p on a weekday in late September) and the business was much brisker in Chicago –
    so far so good.

    Chicago does have three local styles of pizza, deep dish being the least interesting for me. Pan and Cracker Crust are much more enjoyable styles, in that they respect and feature the crust much more. We also have lots of other styles of pizza represented in town. Bonci is a welcome and wonderful addition.

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