Sep 23, 2022 - Food and Drink

Chef brings Chicago pizza to the Nations

A man standing outside of a Nashville pizza place.
Photo: Courtesy of Alison Carmona Rau

If Greg Knotek's tale of culinary entrepreneurship seems ripe for TV, it's because his story is strikingly similar to the hit Hulu show "The Bear."

  • Like the main character in the show, Knotek is a classically trained chef who cut his teeth working in French restaurants and country clubs in Chicago.
  • Unlike "The Bear," where an award-winning chef takes over the family Italian beef shop in Chicago, Knotek left the Windy City to strike out on his own in Nashville.

Why it matters: Knotek's dream concept Gio's Chicago Pizza, which opened in February, is poised to contend with the city's best pizza restaurants.

Driving the news: We received a tip about Gio's from reader Benjamin P. responding to our call for story ideas in our one-year anniversary newsletter.

Details: Gio's is operating out of "food business incubator" Citizen Kitchens on Alabama Avenue in The Nations.

  • The menu is simple and on-brand: Chicago-style deep dish, tavern-style (the less heralded, thin crust version of Chicago pizza) and — you guessed it — Italian beef sandwiches.
  • Like many people from Chicago, Knotek wears his hometown pride on his sleeve. He explains to Axios in equal detail how he painstakingly crafted his pizza recipe and why the word "jagoff" is beloved by Chicagoans.

What he's saying: Knotek, 59, chose Nashville because his daughter got a job here as a nurse practitioner, but the dream of running his own pizza joint runs deep.

  • "I just love pizza. It brings us together," Knotek says. "It's something I've always wanted to do, and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out." He says his 12 years at Al's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Cicero, a Chicago suburb, were especially formative.
  • His time in French kitchens also prepared him. "Am I a five-star chef? No, I am not. But I did work in those kitchens. I'm kind of like the perfect sous chef. I'm a nice guy and I'm a hard worker and I get my stuff done."

What's happening: Knotek is hustling to spread the word of Gio's, but he's taken a cautious approach to marketing.

  • There's been no paid advertising, just word-of-mouth and social media posts so far. He says foodies have come from as far away as Bowling Green and Murfreesboro for his pies and beefs.

Flash forward: Knotek says he's hoping to find a brick-and-mortar space in the next year or so and is open to investors to make it happen.

  • "With Nashville and the big migration of Americans, and Midwesterners and Chicagoans who like tavern-style, and Chicago-style and beef sandwiches, there seems to be a market for it," he says.

Mark your calendar: Gio's will hold a pop-up event at Harding House Brewery in the Nations on Wednesday.

💭 Nate's thought bubble: Gio's has the ultimate trump card: The pizza is delicious. I grew up outside Chicago and would probably call deep-dish pizza my favorite food.

  • Even though I loved Gio's deep-dish, especially the sauce Knotek has painstakingly created, the tavern-style was the highlight when my family ordered it this week. There were no leftovers.
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