Visitor brings N.Y. pizza to Skokie during family reunion
Carlos Cisneros came from New York to the area to reunite with his brothers and sisters. He then decided to stay and open de Carlucci's Pizzeria & Mexican Grill at 4010 Main St. in Skokie. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
Name: de Carlucci’s Pizzeria & Mexican Grill
Location: 4010 Main St., Skokie
Phone: (847) 673-0660
Online orders: www.grubhub.com/de-carluccis-pizza
Updated: October 30, 2012 12:56PM
SKOKIE — There is a special story behind each slice of delicious pizza served up by the cozy new de Carlucci’s Pizzeria & Mexican Grill on Main Street.
It’s as much about family and reconnecting with loved ones as it is about selling tasty pizza pie, its specialty type of dramatically less depth than Chicago’s iconic deep-dish servings. (de Carlucci’s, however, offers a variety for every taste: extra thin, thin, pan, stuffed and even Mexican-style “Za.”)
Owner Carlos Cisneros had little intention of moving to the area to go into business for himself when he visited brothers and sisters he had not seen for decades. Cisneros had been working for his Uncle Joe since ... well ... since he can remember but suddenly he knew he wanted to be closer to his immediate family.
Cisneros was a huge reason Joe’s Pizza in New Haven, N.Y., had become the success it has, but now it was time for him to venture out on his own.
“I never thought this would happen until one day it became like a dream come true,” said Cisneros, 34, who was born in Colombia in South America before moving as an infant to New York.
He remained there to live with his Uncle Joe while the family with Cisneros’ three sisters and two brothers headed to the Midwest.
They kept in touch, Cisneros said, but only through phone calls because he was too busy with the pizza joint to travel. He had prepared to visit before, but there were always business obligations that stood in the way.
Not this time. The visit here earlier this year changed the direction of Cisneros’ life and marked the first time he saw his siblings since he was a boy.
“It was emotional,” he said. “It was hard for me because I didn’t see (family) for more than 20 years. I was crying because I didn’t think I’d see them anymore.”
During his visit the family drove through Skokie when Cisneros spotted Caputos Pizzeria between Keystone and Crawford avenues on Main. There were no customers inside, he said, and Cisneros made the owner an offer, which was accepted.
“I was afraid but I knew I was really good in business and this was a goal for me to have my own business,” he said. “I knew I could make this the way I want.”
The way he wants is in an intimate eatery with few tables on the inside and another seating block outside. The pizzas are made in New York-style wooden ovens with less oil than many Midwest pizzas.
Cisneros renamed the restaurant based on a nickname his mother used to call him.
When de Carlucci’s first opened a couple of months ago, it was strictly pizza and related cuisine, but the owner noticed customer interest in Mexican dishes, which he also knew how to make.
Cisneros added “Mexican Grill” to the title and began selling tacos, burritos and other outside-the-pizza-world dishes.
His uncle, he admits, initially didn’t take the news all that well. Joe’s Pizza still survives with the help of his uncle’s son, who has assumed the day-to-day operations. There is a friendly little competition about which eatery is best, Cisneros said, smiling.
But the owner here knows that without his uncle, de Carlucci’s would not exist.
When he was just a boy his uncle didn’t have money for a baby-sitter so he brought Cisneros and his nephew to the restaurant to learn the business.
“I’m very proud that my uncle taught me everything, and with a little time, I knew how to run the business,” he said.
As his uncle got older, Cisneros became a bigger part of that business until he was managing day-to-day operations.
Now he operates his own place, reunited with family including a brother and sister who work there, too. He is out to prove to himself and to his family that he can make it on his own — that the years inside a popular New York pizza place really paid off.
And to his new customers, to whom he offered free pizza on opening day, he is out to prove something else: Tasty pizza doesn’t just come in one thick size.