It was in 1991 — 25 years ago — that Paisans Pizzeria opened in Brookfield, a small carryout storefront on the east side of Grand Boulevard. On Sept. 21, following a seventh-month, $112,000 renovation effort, Paisans quietly opened the doors to its new dining room at its longtime location, 3720 Grand Blvd. You won’t recognize the place.
The Paisans that once focused on takeout and delivery or for people who wanted to eat a quick slice at one of the booths has morphed into a sit-down restaurant with an expanded menu that features not just pizza, but gourmet burgers and salads, flatbreads, sandwiches, pasta, ribs, chicken and dessert.
“It’s fast-casual, but it’s all plated,” said owner Pete Fejzuloski during an interview inside the newly renovated dining room, which seats about 110, with room for another 40 or so on the covered outdoor patio north of the restaurant.
“Sometimes I can’t believe how it came out,” he added. “It looks so much bigger than before.”
Paisans has come a long way since 1985, when Fejzuloski’s dad opened the original location on 16th Street in Cicero. The family lived upstairs and Fejzuloski, then 14, was a full-time employee, making pizzas and learning the ropes.
Fejzuloski said his father got the recipe for pizzas from a woman in New York City, where the family dwelled for a decade before living for five years in Macedonia. After working a variety of jobs, including as a cab driver in New York, Fejzuloski’s father decided to return to the U.S. and open his own small business in Cicero.
Six years later, Fejzuloski’s dad partnered with an employee to open the first Brookfield location on Grand Boulevard. The partnership didn’t last, but Paisans did. Fejzuloski ended up moving to Brookfield and calling it home.
“It was love at first sight,” Fejzuloski said of the Brookfield location. “There are a lot of nice, hard-working people here.”
Getting the renovation completed, he said, was “a big weight off my shoulders.”
When Fejzuloski closed the dining room in February for the renovation, he optimistically figured it would take about six weeks to complete. While a side door allowed Paisans to keep its takeout business running, the dining room renovation evolved as it progressed.
Many of the elements — from the steel X-brace wrapping around cedar support columns to the fabricated sheet metal ordering counter to tables made from wood planks fastened by steel bolts to the suspended I-beam that doubles as a light fixture — are custom-made.
The open kitchen, exposed-brick walls, exposed duct work and lighting combine with those other elements to give the space a decidedly industrial, yet sleek feel.
In many ways, the Brookfield location looks more like the company’s newer restaurants in Berwyn and Lisle, but Fejzuloski said, “Here we added a lot more things.”
One key difference from the Berwyn and Lisle locations is that customers in Brookfield still order at the counter and then choose a seat in the dining room. The food is delivered to the table by a server.
According to Fejzuloski, employees from the Berwyn and Lisle locations have been tapped as supervisors in Brookfield and are training new staff as the restaurant transitions to the new fast-casual concept.
By this weekend, Oct. 7-9, Paisans will also begin to offer beer and wine. The restaurant received its liquor license from the village of Brookfield last month.