Baker and restaurateur Rich Labriola of Labriola Bakery Café & Ristorante teamed up with veteran Chicago Chef Chris Macchia to open Pizza Barra in Oak Brook, Ill., in the same Promenade just steps away from the original restaurant.
The opening comes on the heels of a growing fast-casual pizza segment; research firm Technomic reported the segment had an annual sales gain of 22 percent last year, and store count growth increased 27 percent. Though Pizza Barra is a full-service restaurant, the fast-casual growth has stemmed, caused or coincided with the growth of more artisan-focused pizzerias opening up in urban markets nationwide.
Pizza Barra's menu highlights three styles of pizzas — coal-fired artisanal with a light and airy "ciabatta-crust" that's sturdier than a traditional Neapolitan pie, along with a Chicago thin crust and thicker pan-style version, all using seasonal, local ingredients for homemade sauces and toppings like squash blossoms and figs in the summer and artisan cheeses from Wisconsin. Guests can also choose from a menu of Italian small plates (piattini), antipasti, housemade pastas like rigatoni with Tuscan-style ragu and homemade ricotta, salads like arugula with truffle, honey and tomini cheese, burgers and desserts, including a selection of housemade gelati. The beverage program features a large selection of craft beers, including 14 varieties on tap as well as unique wines and specialty cocktails by sister restaurant Labriola Ristorante & Café's Beverage Manager Daniel Casteel.
The 8,500-square-foot space includes a seasonal sidewalk patio that seats about 104 guests boasting a 16-seat bar and 90-inch TVs for watching sports. The interior has a modern industrial feel with leather booths, dark wood accents, and an exhibition pizza kitchen with dual coal-burning ovens and a deck oven for the pan and thin crust varieties.
Leading the pack is business catering, which has increased an average of 7.2 percent each year since 2012, compared to 6 percent for consumer catering. Technomic found that businesses spend on average $1,611 on catering per month compared to $984 just three years ago when the firm conducted its last catering research study. Additionally, 63 percent of consumers place catering orders at least once a month or more often for social occasions.
Technomic attributes this growth to the lingering effects of a recession when the last study was conducted in 2012. Another potential reason could be due to the fact that many Millennials are pressed for time, would rather not cook and look to their favorite restaurants to feed their parties and events.