Related: The Best Pizza in Town

Billy Zureikat

Pop-up chef

Billy Zureikat’s body began failing nine years ago when, at the age of 30, he first felt off balance on the basketball court. Then his leg muscles started to atrophy. As he waited for years to learn what was wrong, the kitchen became his escape. With no culinary background, he honed his skills by watching Gordon Ramsay on the Food Network and diving into YouTube tutorials. “Baking became my identity during a confusing time,” he says. In 2021, a diagnosis: muscular dystrophy, a progressive disease for which there’s no treatment or cure. Through it all, Zureikat kept tinkering with pizza. One experiment yielded a creamy sauce of reduced shishito peppers and Parmesan, which he slathered on a Detroit-style crust and topped with corn and mozzarella. The flavors impressed his friend Derrick Tung, owner of Paulie Gee’s, who invited him to re-create it for a charity event. It was the genesis of the Tripping Billy — the pie Zureikat named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his frequent falls — and the launch of a citywide collaboration tour. The Tripping Billy has appeared on menus at 14 places, including Bungalow by Middle Brow, Piece, and Pizza Matta. Each pop-up benefits the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Zureikat expects his fundraising to reach $50,000 this month. “I’m having the time of my life during the toughest time of my life.” — Carly Boers

Doug Thomson

Delivery driver, Pat’s Pizza

Doug Thomson — he goes by Tommy — has been delivering pizza for Pat’s so long that he laughs when asked about it. “I’m probably working on that gold watch right now,” he says. If you’ve ordered from Pat’s in the past two decades, there’s a very good chance you’ve met him, and if you did, you probably have a good story about it. Thomson is the friendliest driver we’ve ever encountered. He might ask you about your pets or how long you’ve lived in Chicago. Maybe he’ll chat you up about the Bears. He’ll probably call to tell you he’s on the way. “He’s so talkative — he remembers every customer he’s ever had,” says Pat’s manager Mark Mendez. “He has more Yelp reviews than I do.” Before Pat’s, Thomson worked as a musician — a “road dog,” as he puts it. He fell into delivering pizza “by happenstance” and stayed partly because he likes the routine but mostly because he believes in Pat’s. “It’s a family restaurant. There’s no corporate feel whatsoever here. It just works, you know?”— Adam Rothbarth

Emily Minella

Factotum, Exchequer Restaurant & Pub

When Emily Minella says “The Ex was my second home,” it’s not hyperbole. Such is the life of a kid whose family owns a pizza joint. Her dad and uncles — the Mannos brothers — bought the Exchequer Restaurant & Pub in 1982, 13 years after the Loop institution opened and 10 years before Emily was born. “People say they remember my mom walking around while pregnant with me.” By the time she was in high school, Minella was greeting regulars at the door, wiping down menus — and sometimes sneaking off to explore the speakeasy tunnels below. “I grew up at a young age,” recalls Minella. “I’ve been handed fake $100s, and my dad was like, ‘Did you seriously accept that?’ And I’d be joking around with 45-year-olds at the bar. I grew a lot of relationships with older people.” Among them was Frenchy (real name: Ferdinand Beauvais), the Ex’s OG delivery guy. “He was the one who taught me how to do scratch-offs.” Amid years of change, some things remain, including the Mob pizza (“Putting fresh garlic on a pizza gets people going”) and the family’s ownership. But the latter is evolving: At the end of 2023, Minella, along with brother Jake Mannos and cousin Chris Mannos, will take over. “We’re going to do some renovations and return to the speakeasy vibe,” she says. “This place has so much rich history.” — Web Behrens