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Beavers are in a deadly fight over Chicago Pizza?

I hate to see the proud Beaver legacy thrown over the dam this way.


Chicago Restaurant That Invented Pizza Pot Pie Embroiled in Legal Battle

Amid messy ownership fight, patrons line the sidewalk to dine at the eatery


Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co., as seen reflected in a mirror, continues operating as a legal fight for ownership plays out in the courts. BRITTANY SOWACKE FOR THE WALL

By Joe Barrett, WSJ

April 29, 2023 10:00 am ET


CHICAGO—In a town famous for its deep-dish pizza, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. has made its own way since the early 1970s, serving an upside-down concoction created by its founder called the pizza pot pie.


Today, patrons still line up on the sidewalk of the mainstay of Lincoln Park, a busy North Side neighborhood near Lake Michigan. And the original menu and cozy décor are largely intact—even though the owner died 7½ years ago, and his children, who worked there from a young age, are locked in a messy legal battle with a longtime employee and an ex-wife of their father’s over control of the business and the building where it is located.


“It’s our entire family legacy. We created this concept, the menu. We built that restaurant,” said Amy Bevacqua, the 58-year-old daughter of the founder, Albert Beaver Jr.




The eatery’s founder, Albert Beaver Jr., at his home in Glencoe, Ill., outside Chicago in the 1970s. PHOTO: AMY BEVACQUA

The litigation dates back years, and has come with a host of unexpected turns. The next hearing is in May.


After Mr. Beaver died unexpectedly on Oct. 31, 2015, Ms. Bevacqua said she flew from her home in New York to Wisconsin to begin to untangle his estate. There, she discovered that his computer and all his files had been taken from his home.


“My heart plummeted,” said Ms. Bevacqua, who changed her surname from Beaver to her ancestral name in her youth. She immediately called Shabbir Chagpar, a former busser who ran the restaurant and her father’s business affairs and whom she had known since she was a girl.


She says he told her he had taken the files and computer because he was the rightful owner of the restaurant and the three-story building where it is located.


The siblings tried negotiating with Mr. Chagpar, but with hardly any documents to bolster their side, they took him to court in Illinois in 2018. Things got even more complicated when Mr. Beaver’s fourth ex-wife, Barbara Beaver, entered the picture, also making claims to the restaurant. Then last summer, Mr. Chagpar died of cancer—but not before transferring his claim to the restaurant’s building to another longtime employee, Catherine Gallanis.




The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. building in the early 1970s. PHOTO: AMY BEVACQUA

“We’ve known them since we were little kids—they were entrusted to manage all our family business,” Ms. Bevacqua said. “We’re shocked by what they’ve done.”


Mr. Beaver was a Chicago lawyer and jazz trumpeter who loved debate and the creative life, said Ms. Bevacqua.


He opened the restaurant in 1972 after rehabbing the building, which had been gutted by fire, according to the restaurant’s menu. The all-cash business has long been a popular destination and has received national acclaim, including from the Food Network.


“He was larger than life, sort of a burly guy,” said Rich Melman, chairman of Lettuce Entertain You, a Chicago-based restaurant chain, whose first restaurant was around the corner from Mr. Beaver’s place.



A pizza pot pie is the signature dish at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. PHOTO: DANIELLE A. SCRUGGS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A big fan of Chicago’s deep-dish and thin-crust tavern-style pizzas, Mr. Melman said Mr. Beaver’s creation took some getting used to. “At first I didn’t like it,” he said of the pizza pot pie, which is baked in a bowl with the dough on top of a thick meat sauce and melted cheese, and flipped over to serve.


Today, the siblings are seeking the building through the Illinois courts and the restaurant through probate in Wisconsin, where Mr. Chagpar filed a will on behalf of Mr. Beaver two years after he died.


The siblings’ Illinois lawsuit focuses on 1980s-era documents turned over by Mr. Chagpar showing them relinquishing their interests in a trust. They say the documents were forged.



Mr. Chagpar’s estate argues that Mr. Beaver gifted the children the interests in the trust and that he was within his rights when he ultimately assigned them to Mr. Chagpar.


Ms. Gallanis declined to comment. Barbara Beaver couldn’t be reached for comment. An attorney for Mr. Chagpar’s estate declined to comment.



Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.’s menu mentions lore that the building was a lookout spot for henchmen in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. PHOTO: BRITTANY SOWACKE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Even as the yearslong legal drama unfolds, life at the restaurant goes on.


The menu still refers to Mr. Beaver as the owner and founder. A history section still mentions local lore holding that henchmen involved in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre used the building to stake out the garage across the street, where the killings took place.


SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Who do you think is the rightful owner of Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co.? Join the conversation below.


On a recent night, Kathy Chaten, a Chicago native visiting from Arizona, enthusiastically told a waitress of her longtime devotion to the restaurant, as the smell of pizza pot pies wafted out from the kitchen.


“I’ve been going there since it basically opened as a teenager,” Ms. Chaten, 65 and recently retired from a sales job, said later. “One of the reasons you like the restaurant is that you could count on it to be exactly the same every single time you go there,” she said. “They don’t try to reinvent the wheel in any way, shape or form.”


Write to Joe Barrett at Joseph.Barrett@wsj.com



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