“There were plenty of naysayers. Chicago is known for deep dish pizza. That is what Chicago is. And people were telling me [you can’t go] into Chicago with a New Haven-style pizza, because frankly, not many people know where New Haven is let alone what New Haven-style pizza is!”
– Billy Jacobs, founder of Piece Pizzeria & Brewery
In this episode, we learn how one entrepreneur dared—not once, but twice—to disrupt the established food scene in a major American city.
In 1983, along with his three brothers, Billy Jacobs arrived in Chicago with a dream: to bring fresh New York-style bagels to the city’s food scene. Their effort was a smashing success. After scaling Jacobs Brothers Bagels to 20 stores and hundreds of employees, they took a buy-out offer. Billy’s brothers went on to second-act careers while Billy started dreaming again, to turn his next big disruption into reality.
That’s when his idea to bring to Chicago the classic New Haven-style pizza of his youth took shape. Soon after, Billy opened Piece Pizzeria and Brewery in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood.
According to industry trade publication Pizza Today, Piece Pizzeria and Brewery is the highest-grossing single location pizzeria in the United States.
Joining us on this episode is our lifelong friend Stu Katz who provided wise counsel when Billy established his restaurants.
In this first part of a two-part episode, we discover:
- Billy’s early career dreams [starts at 3:23]
- The big moment that focused his entrepreneurial career [starts at 4:59]
- How and when the brothers introduced New York-style fresh bagels to Chicago [starts at 7:14]
- The big scale of Jacobs Brothers Bagels (and how Billy truly hated it) [starts at 15:55]
- Billy’s “What were you thinking?” moment when he pursued opening a New Haven-style pizzeria [starts at 18:50]
- Billy and Stu’s childhood memories of Sally’s Apizza in New Haven, the inspiration for Piece [starts at 23:35]
- Piece’s rewarding customer experience [starts at 26:48]
About our guests:
Billy Jacobs received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Boston University. By his own admission, majoring in history was a wise study track for a degree in business administration would probably have ruined his entrepreneurial dreams. The New Haven, Connecticut native is a lifelong Ultimate Frisbee player and an avid Chicago Cubs fan who attends almost all home games.
Stu Katz received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College and a Masters of Arts in Corporate Communications from Seton Hall University. The New Haven, Connecticut native is also the founder and executive producer of Elm City Communications, a corporate communications services company headquartered in New Jersey.
EPISODE DATE: October 4, 2019
Photo credits: Hot Doug’s Atomic Pizza, Piece Pizzeria & Brewery; Billy Jacobs portrait and the Jacobs Brothers, Billy Jacobs; Dan Smolen, Stu Katz, and Billy Jacobs at Wrigley Field, Marsha D. Weiss.