Former Cincinnatian Opens U.S. Pizza Museum in Chicago

Kendall Bruns opened the museum to "inspire curiosity and new ways of thinking about the rich history and recent developments in the world of pizza "

click to enlarge U.S. Pizza Museum founder Kendall Bruns - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
U.S. Pizza Museum founder Kendall Bruns

Former Cincinnatian Kendall Bruns is living the dream as the mastermind and curator behind the brand new U.S. Pizza Museum in Chicago. And it ain't all deep dish.

Bruns, an art school grad and designer, has found a way to blend two of his passions — pizza and art — into a collection of ephemera gathered from across the United States highlighting different types of pizza. In the 3,000-square-foot museum, which opened on Aug. 10 in a former clothing storefront in Chicago's South Loop, visitors can view everything from pizza boxes and historic photos to pizza-inspired prints, posters and pool floats. And yes, there is memorabilia from our very own LaRosa's.

CityBeat: What inspired you to start the pizza museum?

Kendall Bruns: Like a lot of kids, pizza was my favorite thing to eat. I remember visiting NYC for the first time and being really excited to have pizza there since it seemed to be such a big deal in movies and stuff. After that I was wondering why you couldn’t get pizza exactly like that in other places and I started paying more attention to different styles and regional differences — learning some of the stories and reasons why they were different. That led to collecting menus and pizza boxes when I would travel. Given my background as an artist and having done lots of design work for (Cincinnati's) Contemporary Arts Center as well as other arts organizations like the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum, I was very familiar with the museum world and it wasn’t a big leap to mash the two together.

CB: Can you describe what's actually on display and what visitors will see?

KB: The exhibit begins by telling the story of how pizza was brought to America by Italian immigrants who initially sold it from bakeries or as street food. That evolved into full-fledged pizzerias and spread throughout the United States, with different areas often adding their own spin on things depending on the kind of oven they used or available toppings. Besides the pizza history lesson, we feature vintage menus, pizza boxes, photos, toys, records, books, art — anything pizza-related that you could imagine is on display.

click to enlarge Pizza! - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Pizza!

CB: What cities have pizza ephemera represented in the collection?

KB: There’s a spotlight on Chicago but New York, New Haven, Conn. and Detroit are also represented pretty well and we have pizza boxes from as many states as I’ve ever been to, including Alaska and Hawaii.

CB: Your favorite item on display?

KB:  Some of my favorite items in the collection are artwork inspired by pizza. My friend Jess Sisto (who also used to live in Cincinnati) made this amazing needlepoint of a pizza with the words “Love will tear us apart again” like the Joy Division song.

click to enlarge LaRosa's photographs on view at the Pizza Museum - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
LaRosa's photographs on view at the Pizza Museum

CB: Inquiring minds want to know: What Cincy stuff is there?

KB: My first job when I was 16 was making pizzas at the LaRosa’s on Rapid Run. I’ve got some LaRosa’s pizza boxes as well some old photos that used to hang in the original Boudinot location that I bought in an auction when they remodeled it a few years ago. I have some menus and things from some other Cincinnati pizzerias in the collection that might rotate into the exhibits over time. I would love to do a Cincinnati pop-up sometime that was focused on Cincinnati pizzerias so if you have a space for us let me know!

CB: Will you ever add a kitchen to serve pizza???

KB: This idea just keeps evolving so you never know, but right now I’m really happy to get people hungry and then send them to eat at one of the many pizzerias within walking distance of the museum. Local business need their support and the best place to eat pizza is in a pizzeria!

The U.S. Pizza Museum is located at 1146 S. Delano Court W., Chicago, Il. Hours, tickets and more info here.

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