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Gino’s East Pizza hits Mishawaka

Katie Peralta | Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pizza lovers have never been at a loss for options in South Bend as far as quality and tradition are concerned — from the family favorite Rocco’s to the long-standing classic Barnaby’s to the student-loved Bruno’s.

But now there’s a new player in the mix.

Chicago deep-dish pizza landmark Gino’s East has a new Mishawaka location, which is quickly gaining an esteemed reputation with the Notre Dame community.

“Mike Brey comes in here about once a week,” Manette Tepe, Gino’s East part-owner and a ‘93 Notre Dame architecture graduate, said.

The restaurant also catered more than 100 cheese, pepperoni and sausages pizzas to the football team after home games during their entire season.

“They ordered 140 small pizzas [for the first game],” Tepe said. “The next game came and another restaurant was supposed to be there, but someone from the athletic department got wind and call us on Thursday and said ‘Hey, will you guys do this?’ because they really wanted the pizza.”

The football team was one of Gino’s first loyal customers after its September opening.
Tepe said Gino’s currently offers a 10 percent discount to students with valid school identification cards and is working on a delivery program to the University, making the pizza more accessible to students without cars.

Gino’s is located in Heritage Square shopping center in Mishawaka, roughly five miles north of campus.

The location of Gino’s East was originally to be an Irish pub called Molly Brannigan’s, Tepe said. But the pub’s contractor pulled out and Tepe, senior vice president of development at Holladay Properties, was left with an open space.

Tepe assessed the premises with operator Larry Briski, who suggested the idea of turning the space into Gino’s East.

“I knew Gino’s East … I had been going there since high school,” Tepe said. “So I jumped all over it.”

Tepe said the push to open a location in the area was a difficult one and required a great deal of persuasion.

“Selling the corporate people was hard,” she said “They did not think South Bend was a market they wanted to go to at all.”

Tepe said Gino’s corporate gave a number of reasons for not wanting a South Bend location.

“It’s not a suburb of Chicago, there’s not enough people …  They had like every negative you could think of,” she said. “But people [in South Bend] already knew about [Gino’s]. We didn’t even advertise when we opened.”

Senior Mary Kusek, who recently visited Gino’s, said with South Bend’s other renowned pizzerias, the opening of a new one seemed difficult.

“Trying to establish a pizza restaurant in South Bend is difficult because of Rocco’s and its history with Notre Dame people,” Kusek said. “This is different because it’s deep-dish and they offer something totally different.”

The Mishawaka location stands out from other Gino Easts as well, she said, because of its unique décor. Other locations, like the original on Superior Street in Chicago, offer interiors with walls on which customers can write with chalk. The interior of the Mishawka location features Notre Dame and American classic images with pizza themes, like former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn throwing a deep-dish pizza instead of a football.

Tepe also decorated the bathroom interiors with images from Rome, such as some specific to the architecture program. For example, he framed a photo of Hotel Lunetta, where architecture students stay while studying in Rome.

“It’s kind of like a fun little Rome throwback,” she said.

Tepe said he hopes the pizzeria will become an attractive place to the entire community and hopes that with student discounts and campus catering events, Gino’s will become as big of a fixture in South Bend as its other Italian favorites.