Last week’s Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pop-up took over Toro with foot-long cheese pulls, delighting Chicago transplants and skeptical New Yorkers with pizza FOMO. But how did it come about? And how did Lou Malnati’s pizza heir and Toro partner Will Malnati and team pull it off?
“I was in Chicago for the Beard Awards,” chef Ken Oringer explained. “I told Will, ‘There must be thousands of Chicagoans in New York City who crave this pizza. Why don’t we do some type of pop-up?’”
Toro had been doing guest chef pop-ups over the past year, inviting friends like Rachael Ray (who connected Will with chef Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette of the original Toro in Boston) to cook, selling tickets for the events in the private dining room. Time and again the question arose: could they pull off a Lou Malnati’s pop-up? “It never went away,” explained Malnati. “So, one day I was like, ‘All right, all right, all right. Let’s see if we can really do this.”
Moving forward meant Will acting as middleman between the kitchen in New York and the Lou Malnati’s team in Chicago, figuring out what they had and what they’d need. Will may have spent years establishing restaurateur cred beyond pizza, but the Chicago native earned his pizza chops in the family business before studying at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, working in every restaurant. He even returned to Chicago after graduating to open a Lou Malnati’s before starting a career in hospitality in New York at EMM Group.