Bob’s Pizza: From ghost kitchen to beloved bar


Daily file photo by Madison Smith

Bob’s Pizza on 616 Davis St. Bob’s Evanston General Manager Mark Hayashi said Northwestern undergraduate students make up the majority of participants at its Tuesday Trivia Nights.

Avani Kalra, Assistant City Editor

It was Medill freshman Alexia Kadota-Browner’s last night of Fall Quarter in Evanston. 

She finished packing, scheduled an early morning Lyft to the airport, grabbed her bedazzled pink cowboy hat and headed out to Tuesday Trivia Night at Bob’s Pizza. A Northwestern student favorite in downtown Evanston, Bob’s Pizza began as a ghost kitchen, a restaurant without a physical location, offering only takeout and delivery options. 

Bob’s Pizza originally worked out of Whiskey Thief Tavern’s kitchen but has since taken over the entire restaurant space. The Evanston location is one of four Bob’s Pizza locations in the Chicago area.

“The thought was to have fancy, chef-driven food and pizzas, with a friendly concept,” Bob’s Evanston General Manager Mark Hayashi said. “The name Bob’s Pizza is just a very friendly, welcoming name. You wouldn’t hear the name and think the pizza is as fancy as it is.” 

Matt Wilde, Bob’s corporate-wide executive chef, uses beer to ferment his pizza dough instead of water. Since Bob’s first location was in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, he named the style “Pilsen Style Pizza.” Bob’s prides itself on the dish, a cross between New York and Neapolitan-style pizza, as it’s unique to the establishment. 

Kadota-Browner is a fan.

“Being from New York, I have really high standards for what pizza should be like,” Kadota-Browner said. “For example, I’m not a fan of the pizza in the dining halls. I give Bob’s a high rating.” 

SESP sophomore Max Antoniou said he would give Bob’s pizza a 7.1 rating out of 10, but the quality of the pizza is almost irrelevant to him. 

“The vibes are always so good there, the pizza isn’t that high on my mind,” he said.

Whiskey Thief Tavern first started serving Bob’s pizzas in the early days of the pandemic when restaurants had to stop in-person service, operating on a takeout and delivery basis. Bob’s Pizza later moved into the location after the city’s pandemic restrictions closed the tavern down twice, Hayashi said. 

“We had an opportunity,” Hayashi said. “It was so difficult, especially in the pandemic, to start a new place. We already had the staff and the space there.”

Still, Bob’s did not want to directly replace Whiskey Thief Tavern. Hayashi said the tavern was popular among graduate students, but he wanted to attract a younger crowd with Bob’s. 

The restaurant partnered with the sports marketing team at NU in spring 2021, Hayashi said. He added that their agreement gave Bob’s rights to use the NU name and logo in certain branding and allowed some NU sports teams to advertise the Bob’s brand at games and on jerseys. Bob’s has also sponsored intramural teams at NU. 

“Once we did that, we started seeing a lot of students,” Hayashi said. “Trivia Night was already in place at Whiskey Thief Tavern, but now it is always 80 to 90% Northwestern undergraduate students.” 

When she first tried to attend Trivia Night, Kadota-Browner said she arrived an hour in advance and was turned away because Bob’s had already sold out of tables. When she was able to get in later that night, she said she was shocked by the number of NU students in attendance.

In addition to Trivia Night, Hayashi said Bob’s is particularly popular among NU undergraduate students on the weekends after 10:30 p.m., when the restaurant sometimes hosts live DJs. 

Antoniou said he loves Bob’s because of its popularity among NU students.

“When I first came to Northwestern, I was kind of expecting there would be a ‘spot’ for students,” he said. “It took me a couple of days to figure out that place is Bob’s. The first time I went, it was electric.” 

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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