I have to agree with this article (unfortunately). Connie's has suffered the same fate--when they first opened, it was awesome pizza, but now it tastes like bad frozen pizza. Too bad.
Are pizzeria pair now serving a more humble pie?
Chicago Sun-Times, Jan 5, 2006 by Mark Brown
Memories can play tricks, and nothing ever tastes as good as it did when you were young. I know that.
But after a trip to Pizzeria Due the other night, I couldn't help but think I hadn't been eating the same deep-dish pizza that I fell in love with some 30 years ago, and to which I've remained loyal ever since.
Maybe it was the crust. Maybe it was the tomatoes. Maybe it was my imagination.
To satisfy my curiosity, though, I decided to track down some of the women who would know the most about it: the chefs who prepared from scratch the deep-dish pies that made Uno's and Due's so famous that it became synonymous worldwide as "Chicago style."
And guess what? They tell me it's not my imagination. Over the years, Uno's and Due's really have changed their pizza -- and not for the better, the former chefs say.
This accusation is roundly denied by the restaurants' Boston- based corporate owners, as well as the local manager of the two restaurants.
They say they haven't changed a thing since acquiring Uno's and Due's from the widow of founder Ike Sewell in 1992, except perhaps to require pizza chefs to measure out ingredients instead of estimating, which they say was necessary to ensure a more uniform product.
But Aldean Stoudamire and Elizabeth Thomas told a different story.
'THEY WENT THE CHEAPER WAY'
The two women are among a group of African-American cooks who were the oft-overlooked secret ingredient in Uno's success, providing the "mother's love" that made each pie special.
Stoudamire, 66, spent 38 years cooking at Uno's before retiring as head chef in 1996. During much of that time, her sister, Mary Helen White, was the chef at Due's. Thomas, 70, split 32 years between Uno's and Due's before retiring shortly after Stoudamire.
"They put their heart and soul into those pizzas. You could tell." said Sun-Times restaurant critic Pat Bruno, who observed the sisters while researching his 1981 book The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, which included a photo of Stoudamire at work. "They had the feel, you know. The touch. They didn't even have to weigh out the dough."
Both women began under Sewell and continued cooking at the restaurants during the early years of Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp., which now has more than 200 company-owned and franchised units, including locations in South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
"It had started changing before I retired," Stoudamire said. "Little by little, they started changing."
The new owners fiddled with the recipe, she said. They fiddled with the ingredients. They wanted things done their way.
"After the franchise got in, you was just another number," Stoudamire said. "The franchise guys come in with their own rules and everything."
"When they got new management, they went the cheaper way," agreed Thomas, who said the managers began switching everything from oil to cheese to yeast, although she said they returned to the original yeast after there were problems.
NOT TALKING ABOUT FRANCHISES
Both women say they have no information on current practices at the restaurants, except comments from friends and family that the pizza doesn't taste the same.
If you're trying to gauge their credibility, keep in mind that I went looking for them. They didn't come to me with an ax to grind.
Stoudamire, for one, seemed perfectly content never to think or talk about pizza again. She lives on her family's farm in Georgia now, taking care of her 99-year-old mother. She rarely even eats pizza these days.
In Chicago we know the pizza sold at Uno's franchises around the country bears little resemblance to the product the flagship restaurants made famous. That's a different story. But we have always been promised the Boston owners were dedicated to preserving the unique character and food of the original restaurants here.
'WHY WOULD YOU CHANGE IT?'
I received the same assurances Wednesday from Uno's CEO, Frank Guidara, who insisted nothing has changed since Sewell's tenure, not even the pizza ovens. He said the Chicago restaurants still buy the same ingredients from the same local suppliers, contradicting the former chefs. Guidara joined the company last February but said he had checked with others to confirm his information.
"Why would you change it?" Guidara said, noting the success of Uno's and Due's, which have increased sales every year and rank best in the company in terms of fewest customer complaints.
"People must be pretty satisfied," he observed.
True enough, but maybe all those tourists just don't know any better. I didn't say it was bad pizza, just not as good as it used to be.
I was going to say that only in Chicago would we argue about whether a restaurant had changed its pizza recipe. But that's not true. People everywhere take their pizza seriously.
We're just the only ones who know what we're talking about.
Copyright CHICAGO SUN-TIMES 2006
Readers agree: Legendary pie ain't what it used to be
January 10, 2006
BY MARK BROWN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
I'm still working my way through all the mail generated by my column last week about the deep-dish pizza at Pizzerias Uno and Due not being what it used to be, but I have yet to hear from anybody outside the company who disagrees. Part of me worries that all I've accomplished is to call attention to being an old guy too set in my ways, all of our anecdotal opinions not proving anything as far as whether the restaurants really have changed Chicago's signature pizza or whether our memories and taste buds are just playing tricks.
All the letters from those of you comparing the Uno situation to the downfall in the quality of such things as Dove Bars and Levi's brand jeans didn't help me feel better in that regard.
Some lumped in complaints about the pizza quality at Uno's far-flung franchises, which is another matter entirely, as is Uno's store-bought frozen pizza. I would never expect either to meet the standard of the originals.
Aaron Spencer, chairman emeritus of Boston-based Uno Chicago Grill, sent a tongue-in-cheek letter comparing my report to an Elvis sighting. Spencer had told me earlier that Uno periodically has to fend off such fanciful notions.
He did not find persuasive my interviews with two retired Uno and Due pizza chefs who told me Spencer and his managers began tinkering with the pizza as soon as they took over the downtown restaurants in 1992. In his letter, he dismissed their combined 70 years' experience in Uno's and Due's kitchens as "two out-of-state sisters" who "10 years ago used to work" there.
Spencer categorically states there have been no changes in the way the pizzas are made at the company's two flagship restaurants in Chicago since he's been at the helm. A spokesman for the restaurant's main supplier, Anichini Brothers, vouched that the ingredients are the same.
But I'd hate for Uno's brass to think I'm the only person who perceives a difference, so here's a sampling of the response:
"You are right on target. We first went to Uno in 1952 when my husband was in the Army. It was the BEST. Over the years we have gone to Due on most occasions. It is the restaurant of choice for my husband's birthday. In 2004 the pizza was so bad we did not even take the leftovers home. In 2005 the pizza was fair but had little resemblance to what was served in the past. We threw the leftovers away. Hats off to the two ladies who ran the kitchen for so many years. We do remember their GREAT pizzas."
-- Lorraine Considine, Oak Brook
"Boy, were you right! My older sister discovered Uno in the '60s and took my mom and me there. Wow! There was a tartness, a mouth-watering explosion of perfection that was supremely satisfying. I don't know when it changed, but it most certainly has become irritatingly ordinary."
-- Kay Berg, Country Club Hills
"Please, please pass this on [to] the new owners. Yes, the pizza has changed. The crust is not the same, and overall the pizza has gone way downhill. We, too, have been going to both places for 30 years. Any time we are downtown or someone from out of town comes in, we go to Uno or Due, but the last few times have been an embarrassment to Chicago pizza, and I don't know how much longer we can take the change or continue to dine at what was our favorite place to eat!"
-- Michael Rouse, Deerfield
"I am a self-admitted pizza snob. All the pizza I consumed during my formative years came from either Uno or Due. If [Uno CEO Frank] Guidara truly believes they're using the same recipe, ingredients and suppliers that the Sewell family used, he should ask his staff if they are lying to him. I've been to both Uno and Due four or five times in the last six years. The pizza on every occasion was a disappointment. It doesn't taste the same, the texture is different and I've given up trying to impress out-of-town guests with the magic that used to be Uno's."
-- Ruth Ann Stern, Itasca
"You're right. The pizza at Due's isn't what is used to be. It's virtually tasteless. They should be ashamed. That stuff used to be so good it was sinful. In a few weeks, I'm moving to Las Vegas. I wonder what the pizza's like there."
-- Sheila Dukelsky, Chicago
As the owners would argue, the crowds that still line up for tables at Uno and Due make a good case that the restaurants are still doing something right.
I never said the pizza I ate was tasteless or an embarrassment, just a disappointment when compared to a very high standard set long ago and maintained for many years.
Sheila, meanwhile, is bound to find a decent pizza in Vegas, as long as she stays away from deep-dish.
But as any ex-Chicagoan can tell you, she's gonna be totally out of luck when she wants a beef.