Jullianni’s, a delicious mainstay, outlasts others in ‘Pizza Heights’

 

     Five years after a stylish redesign helped bring his restaurant from “just surviving” to robust and thriving, Bill Malliaras is able to look back and laugh a bit as he recalls the roller coaster ride of Jullianni’s, 7239 W. College Drive, Palos Heights, one of the most popular pizzerias and restaurants in the Southwest Suburbs.

“My brother [Perry] and I were originally the Giordano’s Pizza franchisees at this site,” he said last week in a conversation with The Regional News. “We leased this property in 1988. In 2000, we left Giordano’s and went independent. We’ve been Jullianni’s since 2001.”

Walking away from the then-formidable pizza chain had its price.

“Initially, we lost 30 percent of our business,” Malliaras said. “It was rough going at first. You know what was happening? Our customers would walk in, look around, and say, ‘You mean this is not a Giordano’s anymore?’ and I’d say, ‘No, we’re independent now, we’re called Jullianni’s,’ and they would walk right out. They would walk right out.

“You know, pizza is tough on the South Side,” he continued. “It’s tough to break in, because people are creatures of habit. They enjoy their pizza, and they know where they want to go get it.”

But since its first days, Jullianni’s has become a Palos favorite, a mainstay amid the pizza places that otherwise come and go in Palos Heights that led accountant Rich Jakes to post “Welcome to Pizza Heights” on his often humorous message board facing Harlem Avenue

Jullianni’s is so named because the Malliaras brothers wanted a name that sounded close, but not too close, to Giordano’s.

“My brother was coming up with names that I didn’t like, and I was coming up with names he didn’t like, and the best thing we had was Jullianno’s,” Malliaras recalled. “But it didn’t work. So then we saw New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on TV—he was everywhere after September 11, and he had earned a lot of popularity—and my brother looked at me and said, ‘Drop the damned ‘o’–put an ‘i’ in there, and let’s be done with it.’”

A catchy name that rolls off the tongue was no guarantee of success, however.

The post-September 11 economy was sluggish, as millions of Americans stayed home and clung to their pocketbooks, a time “that was really tough for us,” Malliaras recalled.

Perry left the restaurant in 2006, and then in 2007-08 “the economy collapsed, and it was headed to hell again,” Malliaras added. “So yeah, we were struggling–but there were restaurants out there that were still doing well, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Wait a minute. Why are they working, and I’m not working like I used to?’

“Something was not right, but I didn’t figure it out right away. I mean, our food was good, our service was good, the people who work for us are incredible people—I’ve got people who have been working here 20 years.

            His light-bulb moment came when he took a long look at the inside of his restaurant and said, “This place is old on the inside.”

Armed with a bank loan, Malliaris and crew got busy.

“The first thing we did was take the carpeting out and replace it with hardwood floor all over the place,” he said. Then we put in a bar, which is where most of the [loaned] money went. We took out all those old booths by the windows and replaced them with tables, so it looks more like an Italian restaurant. We put the wine shelves in the middle of the restaurant.”

            The renovation was complete by Thanksgiving of 2009, and Julianni’s re-opened to customer acclaim.

            “Business has been incredible since,” he said with a smile. “I can’t be happier.”

The Food

            One thing that didn’t change is the food, especially Jullianni’s renowned pizza, loaded with sauce, cheese and as many as 20 different toppings mingling on a delicious crust in thin crust, pan or stuffed styles.

            While pizza is at the heart of Jullianni’s success, its Italian and American fare plays a strong supporting role. Barbecue baby back ribs, salmon, tilapia, spaghetti, mostaccioli, ravioli, lasagna, chicken entrees prepared at least nine taste-tempting ways, a full line of sandwiches and wraps, soups, salads, appetizers and desserts.

            Jullianni’s also boasts a broad and deep selection of red and white wines, as well as a fully stocked bar.

            The restaurant also offers catering services for events large and small.

Restaurants in his blood

            Malliaras comes from a food-oriented family.

           “My father and his brothers were always in the restaurant business,” he recalled. “My dad was at McVickers Restaurant at State and Madison, and at the Silver Coin at State and Ohio—this is back in the 1960s, when there were real diners. They were there for many years.

“Then they opened the Submarine King at Clark and Wacker,” he continued. “They were at 95th and Commercial, as well as at Milwaukee, Belmont and Ashland. My dad was at 103rd and Kedzie with the Mt. Greenwood Restaurant. They started the Paradise Restaurant at 103rd and Halsted.”

            As a child, Malliaras said he did not get to see his father much, “because he worked so many hours, so I went to work and hung out with him. He taught me the rudimentary part of the restaurant business.”

Later, he went to college. “I majored in political science, but restaurants were in my blood. So I went to cooking school, got my culinary degree and came back into the business with my brother.”

One thing of the many things Malliaras has learned along the way is, “If you serve good food, if you give good service, at a value price, people are going to come. Here at Jullianni’s, you can feed your family for 25 bucks—an extra-large pizza and a pitcher of pop and you’re done.”

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Photo by Tim Hadac

Bill Malliaras, owner of Jullianni’s, 7239 W. College Drive, Palos Heights, takes a moment out of his daily whirlwind to talk for a few minutes about his popular pizzeria and restaurant. An accomplished chef who has cooked for the famous–including the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—Malliaras maintains an average-joe persona and has referred to himself jokingly as a “glorified busboy” with his hands-on style of management.

color OandA 2cols JulliannisPizza-copy

It’s the food, whether pizza, sandwiches or hearty dinners of pasta, veal, steaks or chops, that fuels Jullianni’s draw of hungry appetites for lunch, dinner or carry-out.

 

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