HARWOOD HEIGHTS, Ill. – It has often been said that the American success story is based on inventing and introducing a product for which the public has been waiting. That American dream success story is the tale of the birth of Chicago’s stuffed pizza, the labor of love that became the story of Nancy and Rocco Palese.
The Paleses’ lived most of their adult lives, making pizza in Turin, Italy, before moving to Potenza and then emigrating in 1969 with their three children to the United States.
According to Marisa Palese, daughter of Nancy and Roco, the couple opened their first pizza parlor in Harwood Heights, Guy’s Pizza, featuring the then-popular thin crust (tavern-style) pizza. Friends tried to get the Paleses’ to experiment with pan pizza. Rather than imitate, Rocco decided to introduce his own pizza, based on his mother’s recipe for “scarciedda,” an Italian Eater specialty pie.
“In 1971 my father purchased a location called Guy’s Pizza and he decided to do something different and he created the stuffed pizza,” Palese said. “It took a while, a couple of months to make it where he wanted it to be at the point where he wanted to start selling it, he created the stuffed pizza, unique stuffed pizza, the one, and only stuffed pizza.”
How did the name “Nancy’s” come to be?
“In 1973, my parents purchased a different location named Mario’s,” Palese said. “(My father) decided he didn’t like the name because he wanted to see something with a female name. So I remember him bringing my mother outside and saying that from now on we’re going to be answering the phone, ‘Hello, Nancy’s’ and he decided it was named after my mom and that’s how it started.”
This truly is a story of keeping ones family legacy alive for future generations. Palese wants her parent’s struggles, sacrifice, and innovation to be remembered. She wants their story to be remembered for the pizza pioneers they were, this is the best way she knows how.
“Wow, look at us, all these years, and here we are,” she said. “I never thought this would happen, it’s a great legacy that my mom and father left and I hope they’re smiling up there,” said Palese.
In 1975 rating of Nancy’s by Chicago Magazine as “The Best Pizza in Chicago” and the reputation has stuck ever since.
For more information about Nancy’s new flagship location in the West Loop, click here.
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