Posted Online: May 31, 2011, 6:44 pm

Roots Handmade Pizza brings Q-C-style pizza to Chicago

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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

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Rock Island native Greg Mohr holds two of the Quad-Cities-style pizza from his restaurant Roots Handmade Pizza.
Marv Wise chuckled at the reversal of roles, noting that for years Quad-Citians have clamored for Chicago-style pizza.

Now, thanks to Wise and fellow Rock Island native Greg Mohr, Chicagoans will be in search of Quad-Cities-style pizza.

"They are eating this stuff up," Wise, owner of Wise Guy's Pizza, said of Mohr's Roots Handmade Pizza, which opened Tuesday in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood (1924 Chicago Ave.), northwest of the Loop.

Wise, who began his career with Harris Pizza, has been in Chicago with Roots' staffers for three weeks. He has an agreement with Mohr to supply the Wise Guy's Pizza recipe and spices for Roots. The goal is to perfect a style of pizza that has graced the Q-C landscape for 50 years.

"Things are fantastic," Mohr said in a phone conversation from Chicago. "Home has finally reached Chicago in the world of pizza."

Roots is the second Windy City business venture for Mohr, 33, who also owns Fifty/50, a sports bar with great food. Mohr's Fifty/50 chicken wings were chosen by the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, to be the official wing served at Wrigley Field.

Taking the relationship a step further, the Ricketts have invested in Roots.

"Curtis Granderson (of the New York Yankees) and Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints), also have invested with us," Mohr said. "Great guys. Just the best. The Ricketts have been wonderful to work with on so many fronts. To have them love Fifty/50's wings enough to put them in Wrigley and to be part of what we are doing at Roots means a great deal to us."

Mohr, a business graduate of Illinois State University, chuckled and said "Finally!'' when asked about incorporating the Quad-Cities into a Chicago-based business.

"If I can't have a Jim's Rib Haven franchise — and I would drink that sauce by the gallon — then Wise Guy's was next with pizza," Mohr said. "I have known Marv forever and understand his background.

"When I thought the dream of bringing Quad-Cities-style pizza to Chicago was never going to happen, I found out a friend's fiance used to babysit Marv's daughter. That made me think the time was right to call Marv again and go after this."

Mohr is using the same spices and products Wise uses to produces his Wise Guy's pizza. A Roots pizza will have the signature fennel-flaked sausage, malt-heavy dough and sweet, spicy tomato sauce.

"The soft openings (of Roots) have been great," Wise said. "Greg said he has met people from Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, who live in the neighborhood and have been by several times. That says something, when Quad-Citians living here come to you."

For Mohr, a 1996 Rock Island High School graduate, Roots is dream No. 2 in his career.

"I wrote a paper in fourth grade noting I wanted to own a restaurant in Chicago and I wanted to wear a suit," he said. " My mom gave me the paper — framed — when we opened Fifty/50. Now we have Roots. Hopefully there will be Roots across the country."

A sign Roots will be a success happened during a recent friends-and-family gathering at the restaurant.

"A friend's wife had been a vegetarian for 12 years," Mohr said. "And she had our sausage pizza. It was so good, she stepped over that line. That's a good sign."


Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.