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After 66 Years of Thin Pizza, Candlelite Takes Chance on Detroit Pan Style

By Janet Rausa Fuller | February 29, 2016 5:32am

The Candlelite brought in a consultant to develop its new pan pizza. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]

WEST RIDGE — The only pizza Candelite has ever served in its 66-year history has been the impossibly thin, cracker-crust kind. It is its raison d’etre, the antidote to every slice of overstuffed stuffed pizza.

So word that the tavern with the distinctive neon sign at 7452 N. Western Ave. last week started serving a square-cut pan pizza is sort of like hearing that the Billy Goat now offers a triple-patty Wagyu beef burger on brioche. (It doesn’t, but if it did, can you imagine?) 

To clarify: Candlelite has not done away with or altered its signature thin crust. And the new offering is neither deep-dish nor stuffed. It's a Detroit-style pan pie, one size only, a 10-by-14-inch rectangle serving two to three people. It starts at $15 and goes up from there, depending on toppings.

“My thing was, if we’re going to do pan pizza, it’s not going to be like every other pan pizza in Chicago,” said Candlelite’s co-owner Pat Fowler.

Fowler and partner Pete Vernon researched, planned and tested the potential new menu item over months.

“We hired a consultant who used to work for a bunch of bigger national chains, who came in and helped us develop it,” said Fowler.

READ MORE: A Guide to Chicago Pizza, From Deep Dish to Tavern Style and Beyond

He said the Candlelite’s evolving customer base, which includes many more families, was a big reason for adding the pan pizza. Staffers and a small gaggle of longtime customers got a sneak preview of the pizza at a Christmas party in December.

“We were unsure because thin crust has kind of been who we are, but it got such a good reception that we decided to do it,” Fowler said.

The dough is patted into the pan and brushed with garlic butter before being topped. It bakes for 12 minutes, seven minutes longer than the thin crust.

Candlelite’s version is modeled after the thick squares sold at Jet’s Pizza, a Michigan-based chain that entered the Chicago market in 2012.

“My wife is from Michigan, so whenever we’d go back to her hometown, we’d always eat Jet’s and I was like, ‘This pizza is awesome, I’ve gotta figure out how to do this,’ “ Fowler said.

Candlelite's co-owner Pat Fowler said the restaurant's new pan pizza was inspired by Jet's Pizza, a Michigan chain. [DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller]

Detroit-style pizza traces its lineage to auto workers who used to store their tools in heavy-duty rectangular trays until someone thought to bake pizza in them.

At the Candlelite, the new offering is unceremoniously listed as "Pan Pizza," but the staff has dubbed it Bailout Pizza, Fowler said,

“We were going to call it the Bankruptcy Special, but we didn’t think that’d be well-received,” he said.

The dough is loosely based on the original recipe but uses a different yeast. And that’s all that Fowler will say about that. Some things remain sacred.

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