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The Barstool Fund - Pizzeria Ora

Up next: Pizzeria Ora (Chicago, IL)

Pizzeria Ora Chicago is located in the pizza mecca of downtown Chicago. Specializing in Chicago style deep dish pizza is only the beginning of what they have to offer. Thin crust pizza, homemade soups, salads, burgers, steaks and seafood are also popular favorites.

To Barstool Sports,

Pizzeria Ora is Walid Bitar’s life. It’s where he learned to speak English talking with customers as a waiter in 1996, three years after arriving in Chicago from Syria. It’s where, 6 months after starting, he was promoted to manager. And it’s where, 2 years later, he purchased the restaurant from the man who had hired him. Shortly after becoming owner, a woman entered Pizzeria Ora for lunch with her friends. She caught Walid’s eye. Earlier this month, he and that woman, Heidi, celebrated 20 years of marriage.

Walid learned hard work from his father, a blacksmith in Syria whose family lived in a village that traded and bartered its goods and services. It taught Walid the power of giving back and taking care of those around you, no matter the circumstance. It taught him that it was possible to make an impact without having a lot.

He is a fighter. He is persistent. He is upbeat. He is everything a small-business owner should be.

But he also needs help.

When the pandemic struck in March, and the world—and its Chicago pizza places—froze, Walid pivoted with his employees. Instead of letting go of his staff, he gave them different jobs around the restaurant: deep-cleaning the equipment, painting walls, re-grouting floors, and remodeling the interior—jobs that couldn’t have been done if the restaurant had been open. It allowed him to pay his employees while also letting the restaurant to do a reset of sorts and to look and feel like a brand-new spot once operations returned to normal.

Like so much in his life, Walid was met with a difficult situation and saw an opportunity.

His employees trusted him, and how could they not? Walid had their job once under the exact same roof. He didn’t leave it all to his staff, though. He continues putting in close to 80 hours per week at the restaurant, recently taking a rare Sunday off to spend time with his daughter who was home from college.

He loves the challenge of going head-to-head against the massive pizza chains littered across the city, though it has admittedly made his survival all the more difficult. His location hasn’t helped, either. Sitting in the heart of Chicago, their main source of income was tourism, sporting events, concerts, and conventions. Office buildings closing in The Loop—less than a mile away from the restaurant—crushed lunch sales. St. Patrick’s Day is his biggest revenue day of the year, every year…and Pizzeria Ora closed down for the first time on March 14, 2020.

Being attached to a hotel that has been at single-digit percent occupancy the last calendar year has provided even more challenges. During its worst operating days, Pizzeria Ora’s daily revenue has been low.

Still, Walid and his staff carry on. He proudly says there is no substitute for the personal experience he and his staff deliver with each pizza: He makes all the restaurant’s dough, he took years to perfect a homemade tomato sauce, and he uses the freshest local ingredients to help give back to the community around him. His beaming smile and infectious personality come free of charge.

No restaurant at the intersection of LaSalle and Ohio in River North had ever lasted more than 6 months prior to Pizzeria Ora’s arrival in 1996. Walid has been there since Day 1, and the former waiter and current owner hopes his restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2021. Barstool’s gracious fund can and will make all the difference helping out with rent payments and payroll. Walid has plans to use the money to hire even more wait staff once dine-in restrictions in Chicago are lifted, perhaps as early as January 22.

Pizzeria Ora is Walid Bitar’s life. He arrived as an immigrant speaking very little English and working at a pizza place despite having never tasted the food before in his life. Today, he owns the restaurant, has perfected his own pizza recipe, and gets to be at the spot where he met his wife for the first time every single day. We hope you will help keep his beautiful and hopeful story alive.

To Dave and the rest of the Barstool family, we can’t wait to host you the next time you’re in Chicago for a slice and a pizza review. No rookie scores. One bite, everybody knows the rules.

Sincerely,

Walid Bitar and the Pizzeria Ora family

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