By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
Morton Grove’s legendary Burt’s Place pizzeria re-opened on March 3 under new ownership.
The current co-owners, Jerry Petrow and John Munao, learned how to make pizzas directly from the founder, Burt Katz. While Munao told the Bugle that they try to get the pizza the same, other aspects changed. The new Burt’s Place has a more expanded beer and wine selection, is less cluttered, and diners don’t have to call 24 hours ahead of time to be seated.
Before he opened Burt’s Place, Katz founded Guilver’s Pizza in 1965, in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood. In 1971, he opened Perquod’s Pizza in Morton Grove. There, Katz developed his trademark pan-style pizza with caramelized crust. In 1986, he sold Perquod’s, and three years later, he opened another restaurant. Originally called “Starback’s,” it eventually became known as Burt’s Place.
Katz closed the restaurant Oct. 29, 2015 due to declining health.
Petrow and Munao spent over 20 years working as commodity traders. By the time Burt’s Place closed, they were looking to do something else.
We were both looking for a new adventure,” Munao said. “Eventually, we saw that Burt’s has closed, and we said ‘We need to get a hold of this guy and see what we could do.’”
The two weren’t sure how to contact Katz, so Petrow wound up writing a letter and dropping it in the pizzeria’s mail slot.
“Maybe a week or two later, Burt called Jerry and negotiations started from there,” Munao said.
They reached a sales agreement by December 2015. The duo had no experience running a restaurant, and only Petrow had some culinary experience. They studied closely under Katz, working hard to get the pizza as close as possible.
“We feel like, it’s not exactly [the same], but its pretty darn close to what Burt was producing,” Munao said.
Katz passed away in April 29, 2016. The duo hoped to reopen the restaurant a few months later, but they ran into unexpected problems.
“There were a lot of challenges with the building,” Munao said. “We did a full gut rehab. Our intention was not to do a gut rehab, but as we got in here, we realized full gut rehab was in order.”
Getting permits and making sure everything was up to code for both the Village of Morton Grove and the State of Illinois also took time and money, Munao said.
They added a second oven and a bar. Customers who have been to Burt’s Place before will see a few other changes.
“A lot of the Burt’s old radios are gone, because (a) the families wanted them and (b) we didn’t want the restaurant to be cluttered. We do have a few things on display, and we keep them that way. [Overall], it’s bright. It’s a very comfortable space.”
Burt’s Place is now open between 4:30-9:30 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday, and between 4:30-10 p.m. the rest of the week.
Katz famously required orders to be placed ahead of time, because there was only one oven, so he could only make so many pizzas. That isn’t entirely the case under the new ownership.
“We’d like reservations with the order, but if we have room that night, we’ll take it, and if you want a to go pizza, we’ll do it,” Munao said, adding that the idea that one has to order 24 hours ahead of time was “a total myth.”
In fact, they are hoping to do more carry-out business in the future.
“We’re taking Burt’s to the next level,” Munao said. “We’re going hire someone to work the phones, so we can produce as many to-go pizzas, [and as many] design pizzas as possible.”
While he said that running a restaurant has been a learning experience, but overall, he and Petrow haven’t had any major issues.
“We had our ups and downs so far, but we made our adjustment,” Munao said. “It has been running very smoothly for the last couple of days. We’re slowing getting staff in place.”
So far, he said, the response has been positive.
“We got pretty positive feedback,” Munao said. “Everybody said that it’s pretty much on point with what Burt has been producing. If the pizza is like Burt’s, we’re doing something right.”