Kowalski-backed Chicago-style pizzeria opens soon

One of Jim Kowalski’s last business deals before he died was bringing a Chicago pizzeria concept and its owner to Minnesota.

That restaurant owner, Gary Bougie, is nearly ready to fire up his coal-fueled oven at Pizzeria Pezzo in White Bear Lake. And Bougie has ambitions to open another four Twin Cities locations in the next five years.

Bougie opened a pizzeria called Slyce in the northern suburbs of Chicago in 2010. Kowalski’s Markets Vice President Terri Bennis visited Slyce and later raved about it to Kris Kowalski Christiansen, who is Jim Kowalski’s daughter and chief operating officer of the Woodbury-based supermarket company.

After some meetings with Bougie, the Kowalski family invested in the pizzeria. Jim Kowalski died in a September airplane accident, but the family business remains Bougie’s investor. It’s the company’s first investment in a restaurant.

“My dad felt exactly the way I did,” Kowalski Christiansen said. “He saw the same passion, enthusiasm and high standards, sort of like what we do at Kowalski’s.”

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Bougie hopes to open Pizzeria Pezzo Dec. 27. He’s still going to own Slyce, but he has moved to Minnesota, where he lived until he was 5 years old.

“I’ve been dying to get back.” Bougie said. “I’ve relocated here. This is where our growth will happen.”

Pizzeria Pezzo is taking over the Decoy’s Bar & Grill space (most recently Paddy Wagon’s Irish Sports Pub) at the corner of Highway 61 and Fourth Street. It’s near the family’s second grocery store, opened in 1985.

“This place has been gutted from top to bottom,” Bougie said. “It’s completely changed.”

Jim Kowalski was involved in the restaurant’s design, Kowalski Christiansen said.

“The space looks beautiful,” she said. “I wish he could be here to see it.”

Slyce, located in Wauconda, Ill., bakes most of its pizzas in the coal oven and uses a different oven for Chicago-style deep dish pies.

“Everything we do is very authentic,” Bougie said. “We try to get back to the roots of where pizza is from.”

The Pezzo menu will be similar to Slyce’s. Most 12-inch pizzas are $12 to $15. Pizzeria Pezzo will have a full bar with lots of craft beers, Bougie said.