I’ve always loved pizza. But as a child, there were really only two types of pie I was accustomed to: the bland, cardboard-like rectangular pieces that were served at school, and the personal pans I earned from Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT! program. Needless to say, I did a whole lot of reading and was obsessed with those miniature slices — overcooked pepperoni and all.
Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since, and Louisville offers a plethora of pizza options. One is Jake and Elwood’s, a Frankfort Avenue restaurant that serves up Chicago-style deep dish pizzas and hot dogs. I sat down with owner John Thurlow to talk pizza making amid the pandemic.
A Chicago native, Thurlow was previously a programmer for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Though he’d never worked in the restaurant industry, he’d always wanted to open a Chicago-style restaurant.
“I had visited Louisville,” he told The Courier Journal, “and I really just loved the city. On July 5, 2019, I put in my two-week resignation (and on) July 19, I moved down here. I really just wanted to bring my love of Chicago food to another city.”
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When his realtor called about an availability — the building that was once home to Frankfort Avenue institute Cliftons Pizza — he set his sights on opening shop there.
“I didn’t walk out of here until the landlady agreed to sign a lease with me,” he recalled. “We opened our doors (on) March 16, 2020 — which is the same day the governor closed the restaurants. We opened at 11 am (and) we actually had a full dining room. (But) by 6 pm, everyone had to leave.”
Thurlow said he feels fortunate because everything on the menu — pizzas, hot dot dogs, sammiches, and the like — was easy to start offering to-go.
“Had that not (been the case),” he said, “with the time and money I’d put into this place, I would have been out of business, right there and then.”
Staffing, he says, has been a challenge from the very beginning.
“All the good employees were already working somewhere else,” he said, “(but) a couple weeks after opening, I had a line of people wanting to work here because (so many other) restaurants are closed.”
The influx of would-be employees was short lived, however. He says that when people began getting stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, the line of eager workers dwindled down.
“I went from having adequate employees, to having great employees, to having no employees,” he said.
Two years later, Thurlow is still looking for workers — Jake and Elwood’s is always hiring, he says — but they’ve all learned to make do with a smaller team.
“I do have a very good staff now,” he said. “The backbone of this place … is the staff.”
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He adds that his head chef, Dave Hawkins, has been a godsend.
“He was a customer here,” Thurlow said, “and he left (his last job) specifically to come work for us. … He really liked (this place) and wanted to see it succeed.”
The pizzas that Hawkins is cooking up, Thurlow adds, are unlike anything else around town.
“Lots of people don’t understand that … the crust on our deep-dish pizza is thinner than our thin-crust pizza,” he said. “You lift the crust up on the side of the pan, and you pile it deep. On our 14-inch pizza, we have about four-and-a-half pounds of cheese on there.”
Thurlow offers eight different deep-dish versions — as well as a build-your-own option — in small and large sizes. Meat lovers will enjoy The Stockyards, which boasts Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon, and ground beef; And vegetarians might opt for The Wrigleyville, made with fresh spinach, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, and red onions.
“It really is a great value,” Thurlow said. “You can come here and spend $29.99 and you can feed a family of four easily, and bring home leftovers.”
Jake and Elwood’s pizzas — as well as Chicago-style dogs and sammiches — are available six days a week, via counter service for seating in the dining room and out back on the pet-friendly deck.
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“I say ‘pet’ rather than ‘dog,'” Thurlow explained with a laugh, “(because) we’ve had cats, dogs, goats, ferrets, parrots, (and) a boa constrictor (here).”
Thurlow is currently working to expand the bar space off the deck. Customers will soon be able to enjoy their pizza between games of ping pong, pool, and darts while listening to live music on weekends. For now, the outdoor bar is only for cracking open beers, but guests can enjoy the full bar — and viewings of Chicago Cubs games — inside.
“It is a full bar… but (this is) more of a beer-and-a-shot type of place,” Thurlow said, adding that once the rest of the outside area is complete, Jake and Elwood’s will be a neighborhood spot where people can just hang out and spend time together.
“I do think the industry is going to pop back,” he said. “We’re finally turning that … curve.”
Given the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic, our weekly restaurant review column’s focus will shift for the forseeable future. Each week, Lennie Omalza will interview restaurants that are fighting to adapt and survive while serving our community. Please send coverage scenarios to Lifestyle Editor Kathryn Gregory at email@example.com.
WHAT: This is a neighborhood sports bar and pizza joint that serves an authentic taste of Chicago, including Chicago-style deep dish pizzas, dogs, and sammiches.
WHERE: 2230 Frankfort Ave.
SERVICES: Indoor dining, outside seating, carryout, and delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats; Tuesday and Wednesday, 4-0 pm; Thursday and Friday, 4 pm to midnight; Saturday, 11 am to midnight; Sunday, noon to 9 pm; closed Monday
CONTACT: 502-690-2167, jakeandelwoods.com