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Chicago beat New York to open a pizza museum. Now it's closing.

Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- Say it ain't so, Papa Joe. The U.S. Pizza Museum south of the Loop, which gave Chicago a controversial claim to primacy over New York in the perhaps nonexistent pizza museum wars, is closing come October.

But the lively collection of artifacts and history won't be going away permanently, emphasized founder Kendall Bruns. He'll be going back to his pop-up roots, looking to mount freestanding special exhibitions now and again while he also keeps an eye out for another home, Bruns said.

"At some point, I'm going to do a pepperoni exhibit," he said. "I don't know what the right vehicle for that is."

For people who've been thinking about visiting, now is the time. Bruns has been continually tweaking his 3,000-square-foot presentation, working to find the right historical base topped with everything from a wide-ranging pizza box collection to a doll of the Domino's Noid character to 1950s menus that have pepperoni nowhere on the ingredients list.

"I don't know when the museum collection is going to be put on such spectacular display like this again," he said. You want to see a box proving that McDonald's gave pizza a shot? You want an explainer on all the different styles of pizza, or a reminder of the early national chains, such as Shakey's? It's all there, plus the requisite display of pizza-themed record albums.

So for now, the free museum that's open Fridays through Sundays is very much a going concern. It is even opening a new exhibition Saturday, kicking things off with a book signing and film screening.

 

"Pizza in New Haven" looks at the pizza from the Connecticut city that is widely regarded as among the best in the country. The event (free, with registration at uspizzamuseum.com) starts with a 4:30 p.m. reception, then features a talk with Colin Caplan, a New Haven resident whose book "Pizza in New Haven" provides the exhibition's source material.

"It's hard to explain to people how big a deal it is to have a picture of someone making a pizza from 1935," Bruns said, looking at a New Haven shot of a baker sliding a half-tomato, half-anchovy pie into the coal-fired oven, newly mounted on one of his museum walls. You can find owners and restaurant shots, he said, but the actual crafting of the product was rarely documented.

There's also a screening of the film "Pizza, A Love Story," a documentary about famed New Haven pizzerias and the families behind them, plus a Q&A with director Gorman Bechard, at 7 p.m. and then Monday night at Piece Pizza, the Wicker Park restaurant that brings New Haven pizza to Chicago.

Caplan said he is eager to share his story with Chicago, to have his book, which came out late last year, "be seen as more than just the history of a small East Coast city. This is a true history of pizza in America. It's a glimpse of how pizza become popular through one of its cities."

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