When Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria and Pub opened its doors in downtown Crystal Lake 10 years ago, owner and manager Brian Coli had no idea what to expect.
Their first day in business was Nov. 5, 2002, and Coli said on that day, and for the first couple of months after they had more business than they could handle at their 75 E. Woodstock St. location.
Now, he says, they realize that was the start of the holiday season and the busiest time of the year. But back then, they had no history of what to expect, and so they just focused on keeping up with the daily business, and grew to expect every day would be busy, or they would be caught off guard.
Today though, they’ve perfected the art of serving up one of McHenry County’s most desirable Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, along with many of their other popular favorites such as the thin crust, pasta, sandwiches, desserts, drinks and more.
“Georgio’s has evolved since opening,” Coli said. “When we opened back in 2002 we were young and inexperienced, but eager to get started.”
“Georgio’s is proud to celebrate our tenth anniversary and grateful to the community we serve. From our secret recipe deep dish pizza, to our friendly staff, we are proud to have served exceptional pizza, food and drink for the past 10 years and look forward to many more.”
When the restaurant - named after Coli’s father and their shared middle name of George – first opened, their menu only had pizza, a few pastas and salads.
In the beginning, though, they had to scale it back to just pizzas because they couldn’t keep up with the business. They offered individual pizzas, and since they were new and people hadn’t ever tried the restaurant, most people ordered an individual pizza, he said.
“So instead of having 30 to 40 large pizzas in the oven, we had over 150 individual pizzas to keep track of,” he said. “It was a nightmare to say the least. We still offer individual pizzas at lunchtime, but we don’t have that size available on our regular menu anymore.”
After being open just a short while, they also stopped their delivery service, deciding they wanted to focus on the customers in the dining room first.
Eventually though, they started adding more to the menu again, offering delivery and getting the hang of running a popular restaurant. Now, Georgio’s even has a second location, which opened in South Barrington 17 months ago.
“After a few months of chaos from opening a new restaurant for the first time (10 years ago), we started to get the hang of things, identify our strengths and weaknesses, and started to hire people with expertise in the areas we struggled with, which was a huge help,” Coli said. “We’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years, mostly from trial and error, and learning from our mistakes.
“Today we try to keep things simple. We know what our core strengths are, and we focus on doing them well. Although our menu has grown over the years, it is still simple, manageable, and focused on deep dish and thin crust pizza, along with other items that our customers love,” he said.
“Every once in a while we’ll add something new to the menu, but that usually means taking something else off. If we don’t think a potential menu item is the best of its kind, we won’t put it on the menu.”
While many things have changed over the past 10 years, many more still are the same, Coli said.
The restaurant has standardized its recipes and procedures, but the core product has always remained the same, he said. They still use the same pepperoni, the same pizza cheese, and the same flour, which they’ve used for generations – even before Georgio’s opened.
And customers keep coming back for those same recipes.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have customers who have been coming in monthly, weekly, and some, multiple times per week, since we opened,” Coli said.
“There are even a handful of staff members left from the original opening staff, and that is hard to come by in the restaurant business. I’m so grateful for our loyal customers and dedicated employees.”