“As the national economy suffered and consumers cut discretionary spending, Uno experienced a significant decline in sales. . . . Accordingly, Uno’s ability to invest in its brand and its operations became impaired, and it became increasingly difficult to support its existing capital structure.” –Louie Psallidas, Uno Chicago Grill’s chief financial officer, commenting on the company’s bankruptcy filing on January 20, 2010.
Friends, family, fellow mourners: I’m pleased you could be here today, even for an occasion as somber as this one. Uno would be thrilled to see this packed room. I hear there’s a 45-minute to an hour wait outside the chapel. (pause for laughter) No, I kid…
As a Chicagoan whose veins pulse with tomato sauce, I’m honored to stand at this podium. But I don’t deserve to be here. Like so many, I fell out of touch with Pizzeria Uno years ago. When he left Chicago at 36—an unsophisticated kid who had never been outside the city, suddenly hand in hand with a bunch of slick Bostonians—I distanced myself. I hardened my heart to match my arteries.
No matter how deep he may have been, once Uno began talking about market share instead of mozzarella, I knew he was lost to us. While the rest of America greeted him with open arms and mouths, they believed they were getting the real Uno, the brawny, subterranean Chicago knucklehead. Instead, they got a neutered crowd pleaser that peddled crispy cheese dippers and pomegranate margaritas. And now it’s too late. I just . . . I feel . . .
I’m sorry. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.
VOICE IN CROWD: Excuse me. This isn’t—
Please, let me finish. I just need to get through this. . . . Our last few interactions were not pleasant. I ran into him in Orlando long after he had changed his name and undergone a senseless face-lift. He did not recognize me, nor I him. Although tan and gregarious, he was obviously not well. You see, Uno had recently made a series of ill-advised decisions in his private life, including disastrous flings with chicken thumb platters and avocado egg rolls. The only hint of his past was a glossy stock photo of Navy Pier on the wall.
In later years, I watched as Uno—once portly and proud—morphed into a health nut, blathering about calories to anyone who would listen. Around this time, he began hanging out in airports and stadiums, looking thin and pale, and whispers of his decline had escalated into roars. A Yelp commenter in Washington, D.C., reported recently that Uno had his “good days and bad days.”
I’m ashamed to say I betrayed my old friend in the worst way: I sought comfort in his enemies from New York and Naples, defiantly flaccid pretenders who did little to alleviate my guilt, much less satisfy my hunger. And while I consoled myself with the notion that I could always see the old guy on Ohio Street, I never bothered to visit unless my brother was in town from Cincinnati.
Forever will I remember that bleak January day when I heard the tragic news. But as the sadness passed, I felt relief: Uno’s years of torment were over. After years of searching, my friend is finally at peace. He is home. And so, I vow to remember Uno for his early years of enthusiasm and vitality—and I pray that you do the same. Anything less would be to dishonor his memory. Thank you.
VOICE IN CROWD: That was beautiful, but this isn’t a funeral. It’s a bondholders’ meeting. We’re converting $142 million in senior secured debt into a 96-percent equity stake in the reorganized Uno Restaurant Holdings Corporation. Who are you again?
I’m . . . I don’t understand. Who’s in this urn here?
Well, this is awkward. Heh, heh. Uh . . . say, what’s for lunch?
Illustration: Sylvia ParkDining & Drinking