The Interview: Marc Malnati

Marc Malnati
Marc Malnati Photo by Jake Hill

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:38 pm

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria will soon bring its popular Chicago-style deep dish pies to the Milwaukee area with its first Wisconsin location in Fox Point. The carryout- and delivery-only store is slated to open in early December at the Riverpoint Village Shopping Center. Since it was founded in 1971 by Lou Malnati, the chain has grown to include 45 partners operating 56 locations in the Chicago area and three locations in Arizona. BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Maredithe Meyer recently spoke to Lou’s son and the company’s second-generation owner Marc Malnati about its move into the Milwaukee market.

Why Milwaukee?

“We see Milwaukee as a sister city to Chicago and we love all the fantastic things going on in Milwaukee, great revitalization in town and I’m excited about the fact that it’s really on the uptick … I think a lot of the tastes are similar (to Chicago). A real appreciation for cheese is paramount in where we decide we’re going to go. And who knows cheese better than Milwaukee? We already know that there are a lot of people who visit Chicago from Milwaukee and love Lou Malanti’s and have been asking us for a long time, ‘Please come to Milwaukee. Please come up north,’ and we move pretty slow, but it’s time.”

Do you have plans for additional area locations?

“We mapped out the whole area and feel like it would be incredible if we could open two to three restaurants and about four or five carryout and delivery stores in the whole area (over three to five years), and really kind of create a Malnati community, create a place where our people can grow and move into other stores and take on more responsibility and where we can create a strong culture. It’s important to us as a family business and it’s hard to do with one store, but way better for us when we can have multiple stores, like six or eight. We’ve identified some distinct areas where we want to be, based on demographics and strong population centers. Fox Point was the first opportunity… We’re hoping to follow soon with a full-service restaurant in Brookfield, but we don’t have a contract there yet. We’ll move in as the opportunities arise.”

Why enter the market with a carryout-only concept?

“We open two or three carryout stores for every one restaurant. Pizza is a food that’s so conducive to carryout and delivery. A pan pizza, especially, stays very hot in a box. It can travel well, unlike most other foods … We tend to adopt a hub-and-spoke approach where we’ll put a restaurant in the strongest population center with the highest density and we’ll build carryout stores around it. So when people want to go out with family or meet friends, it’s there, and when they just want to turn on the TV and snuggle up at home, there’s probably a location that’s even closer.”

Your company has sourced its cheese from Wisconsin dairy producers for almost 50 years. What does a Wisconsin expansion mean for those existing ties?

“(Those dairy producers have) provided us the cheese that has the right flavor, the right butter fat, perfect for our product to serve out of a pan or out of a box. It’s so important to have a relationship with local vendors, and we consider Wisconsin obviously local, where we know what’s going on with the climate and what the cows are eating and how that’s affecting the cheese we’re buying … Wisconsin has played a big part in our success since day one, so moving and having stores in Milwaukee is only a natural progression for us.”

Marc Malnati
Owner, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
3685 Woodhead Drive, Northbrook, Illinois
Employees: More than 5,000 company-wide

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