Since opening a few weeks ago, the parking lot of East of Chicago Pizza has been busy in the lunch and dinner hours, serving up slice after slice of the franchise’s handmade pizza to Sumter residents.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said Cathy Rabon, who owns the business with her husband, Bubba.
From specialty pizzas to baked subs, wings, salads and much more, Sumter’s newest pizzeria offers a diverse menu.
Its specialty, said Mike Williams, vice president of operations for the franchise, is its pizza, which can be made with five different crust styles and more than 15 choices in toppings. Williams said the pizzas are all handmade fresh in the restaurant, using a large mixer to make fresh dough daily.
“Ours is a pan crust, which is nice and crisp on the bottom and light and airy inside,” he said.
The same dough is used to make their dessert, CinnaPOPS, a cinnamon-sugar-covered confection popular among guests, he said.
The popularity of the Sumter restaurant caught Williams by surprise.
“Sales have been more than I expected,” he said.
Chalk it up to a great product and experienced owners, he added.
“They know if we cook it, it’s good,” said Bubba Rabon. “We wanted to create a first-class pizza and dining facility.”
The Rabons have been restaurateurs in both Sumter and Myrtle Beach, having owned Todd’s Steakhouse in the 1980s and Cathy’s on Broad more recently. The two currently own and operate Sports & Wings, a restaurant located on the corner of Wise and Broad streets.
Bubba Rabon said he became familiar with East of Chicago after visiting a restaurant in Myrtle Beach. He and his wife were looking to “diversify” and saw an opportunity for a Sumter location of the pizzeria.
“Their product was the best, and we wanted the best,” he said.
Cathy Rabon said the pieces just fell into place.
“It was the right place, the right time and the right product,” she said.
“And they were the right people,” Williams chipped in.
It also didn’t hurt, they said, that the food is a family favorite.
“We like pizza, our kids like pizza, and our grandkids like pizza,” Bubba Rabon said.
The dining room of the restaurant features family style seating and several flat-screen televisions.
“We are trying to create a nice, comfortable family atmosphere,” said Williams.
Williams and the Rabons admit that there have been a few hiccups since the restaurant opened but said they are working toward running the restaurant at optimum performance.
“We are trying to make the guest experience faster,” said Cathy Rabon.
The East of Chicago Pizza franchise originally started with a single store in Greenwich, Ohio, in 1991 and soon branched out into multiple stores, mostly in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Williams said the name came from a frequent customer who claimed the fare was “the best pizza east of Chicago.”
Currently, the Sumter installment of the franchise is the second in South Carolina with one in Myrtle Beach, although the Rabons said they are looking to expand the franchise into the surrounding areas.
“We want to go all the way to the coast,” said Bubba Rabon.