CHICAGO -- In early March, Home Run Inn began building up its inventory of frozen pizza at its southwest suburban plant, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit home.
The family owned company was nonetheless unprepared for the surge in demand, as worried consumers loaded up on the stay-at-home staple before hunkering down for the foreseeable future.
"It was absolutely crazy," said Nick Perrino, 33, who heads up the frozen pizza division for Home Run Inn. "The pandemic had people stocking up on frozen pizza, making sure they had product, just like with toilet paper."
A 73-year-old pizza empire that grew from a single Chicago tavern, Home Run Inn operates nine restaurants in the city and suburbs, and a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Woodridge. Frozen pizza generates about 75% of the company's revenue, but with its restaurants limited to pickup and delivery since March, the balance has shifted even more dramatically.
Home Run Inn sells frozen pizza in more than 40 states and is the No. 12 brand in sales nationally, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. It is the No. 1 selling frozen pizza in the Chicago area.
"If we could make double, we'd be able to sell double," said Perrino, whose grandfather began serving pizza at the family's Little Village tavern in 1947.
In February, the Chicago Cubs announced that Home Run Inn would be the official pizza of Wrigley Field, a five-year partnership and major revenue opportunity. The baseball season was postponed March 12.
Home Run Inn went all in on frozen pizza March 16, shifting to a seven-day production schedule for its 130 line workers. The plant has been churning out about 78,000 frozen pizzas a day, up about a third from the pre-pandemic operation.
The company has about 500 employees at its restaurants. None have been furloughed or laid off, with Home Run Inn securing a federal Payroll Protection Program loan last month to keep them fully employed, despite softer restaurant sales during the pandemic.
About 20 of the restaurant employees have been reassigned to the frozen pizza operation. "It's the same process," Perrino said. "Our frozen pizza is made exactly the same way as in our restaurants."