The Pizz'a Chicago team says it's "not ready to quit" and has a plan to downsize to a smaller location to continue. (Courtesy Juan Lorenzo via gofundme.com)
By Kate Bradshaw
Palo Alto's Pizz'a Chicago, which has been operating in the city for 28 years, is in the process of moving for the second time in four years, according to its owner Juan Lorenzo.
The new location, 3866 El Camino Real, will be smaller and primarily targeted toward takeout customers, he says. To help raise funds to cover moving costs, they've launched a GoFundMe campaign and are seeking community support.
His staff team has worked with him for decades at this point – the general manager and dishwasher have worked there for 28 years, while the driver has worked there for 23 years, he says.
"It's like a family. We're not ready to quit," he says.
Pizz'a Chicago operated at 4115 El Camino Real in Palo Alto for more than 20 years. About five years ago, the restaurant was displaced when its building passed to a new owner, and it moved to its current location at 2305 El Camino Real near California Avenue.
In December 2019, the restaurant's former home became the site of a "rare and tiny victory" in the battle to provide more housing within city limits as members of the Palo Alto City Council voted to allow seven condos to replace the restaurant.
Lorenzo says that he invested heavily to make his current location thrive. He put in about $750,000 to refurbish it and didn't think he'd ever leave it.
"Everything was going OK until COVID," he says. Ever since, the restaurant has struggled. He got some financial relief from the landlord at first, but now the landlord is pushing for the full rent – which comes in at nearly $20,000 per month, he says.
It's helped some to have nearby Stanford University back in person, but many of the companies where his team used to deliver pizzas are still not back full time to the office. There's been a bump of roughly 10%-15% in the right direction of late, but that's not enough to cover expenses, especially considering that during the same time, food costs went up about 15%.
"For us, the business hasn't really come back," he says.
The deep-dish pizzeria at one point had five locations around the area – in Foster City, San Mateo, San Jose, Santa Clara and Los Gatos – but only the Santa Clara and Palo Alto locations remain.
"This is one of the last ones surviving around here," Lorenzo says.
The new location has to go through the permitting process with the city, which is expensive, he says. It will also require shutting down sit-down operations entirely for about four months while they transition to the new spot. In the meantime, he's hoping the community steps up to support them through deliveries.
Pizz'a Chicago, 2305 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-424-9400, Instagram: @pizza_chicago.