Our Story

It has often been said that the American success story is based on inventing and introducing a product for which the public has been waiting. The success of the stuffed pizza is the story of Nancy and Rocco Palese. They had lived most of their adult lives making pizza in Turin, Italy, before moving to Potenza and then emigrating in 1969 with their three children to the United States.

After 18 months in Chicago, Nancy and Rocco opened their first pizza parlor, Guy's Pizza, featuring the then popular thin crust pizza. Business had its ups and downs, and friends tried to get the Paleses to experiment with pan pizza. Rather than imitate, Rocco decided to introduce his own pizza, known as "scarciedda," an Easter specialty cake.  He visited Potenza and secured his mother's recipe. Rocco’s pizza invention, stuffed pizza, was born!

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Rocco began experimenting with his new pizza, trying to perfect its marketability. He went into a solo business, then a partnership, then again tried it on his own before the right combination of circumstances brought to him, to Nancy’sand to stuffed pizza, fabulous success.

The time, place and product were finally right when Rocco opened his new pizza restaurant in Harwood Heights, Illinois. The new location was named Nancy’s after Rocco's wife, Annunziata, and was dedicated to the preparation and serving of stuffed pizza. Nancy’s had a seating capacity of only 35 people when it opened. Within six months, Rocco had to begin the first of a series of expansions, which eventually increased the restaurant's capacity to 140 people. This was especially necessary after the 1975 rating of Nancy’s by Chicago Magazine as, "The Best Pizza in Chicago."

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As their restaurant prospered and became widely known, the Paleses decided to open another location. In 1977, the Paleses partnered with Dave Howey to open a Nancy’s in Oak Lawn, IL. In 1978, Nancy and Rocco sold their original restaurant in Harwood Heights to finance another new and greatly expanded location at 4256 N. Central Avenue in Chicago. Shortly after this, the Palese family sold the Central Avenue location. The Paleses went on to open Nancy’s in DesPlaines, Aurora and several other locations.

The relationship between Dave Howey and the Paleses strengthened, and in 1990 Mr. Howey purchased the Nancy’s name from the Paleses. The expertise gained during his years operating the Oak Lawn Nancy’s restaurant was instrumental in his development of a unified concept featuring the Nancy’s pizza products. In 1991, with the opening of the first "prototype" Nancy’s Pizza Express in Tinley Park, Illinois, Nancy’s became not just a pizza restaurant, but also a franchise business system. With a unified system and concept, a formal franchise offering was finalized that is now marketed on a local as well as national level. 

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Nancy’s has received enormous recognition throughout the years and has won the following awards.

  • Named “The Best Pizza in Chicago” by Chicago Magazine
  • Named "Best Pizza in Chicago” by ABC-TV's People's Choice Poll
  • Named "Best Stuffed Pizza in Chicago” by Chicago Tribune
  • Awarded "The Best Fettuccine Alfredo in Chicago” to a Dave Howey owned Nancy’s as winner of The Chicago Tribune Pasta Challenge which involved 12 of Chicago's finest Italian restaurants including Nancy’s, Pronto, Avanzare and nine others.
  • Named “Burbs Best Italian Food” by 108 FM Radio
  • Named “Best by Far” pizza in Chicago and its suburbs by Entertainment Publications
  • Named “Best Pizza in Chicago” in a ‘blind’ taste test by Suburban Times Newspapers
  • Named “The Place for Stuffed Pizza in Chicago” by Chicago Tribune

Nancy’s famous Stuffed Pizza is now available to be shipped directly to any home or business in the continental United States.  These pizzas are made with the same high quality ingredients that go into the stuffed pizzas that are available in any of our restaurants that we currently operate across the country.