CHICAGO — Arizona loves Lou Malnati's pizza. Really, really, really loves it.
How much? So much that Phoenix TV news helicopters were brought in to circle overhead and record the crazy scene outside the opening of the Chicago pizza restaurant's first-out-of-state location.
Hundreds of people lined up outside the new Phoenix shopping center location for its May 16 opening, prompting Malnati's to serve pizza to hungry fans while they waited.
And every day since the western outpost served up its first pie, it's been confronted by hungry crowds "100 people deep" swarming outside at opening time, spokeswoman Meggie Lindberg said.
The family-owned business chose Phoenix because of its "strong community of Chicago ex-pats," Lindberg said.
"We ship pizza around the country, and nowhere gets more requests than the Phoenix-Scottsdale area," she said. "But we've also been hearing from a ton of people who are trying it for the first time, so that's been a really nice surprise."
For now, the new restaurant is only open for dinner, but that doesn't mean it's a small operation. The restaurant is nearly 7,000 square feet, leaving room for more than 300 customers.
And even with all that space, Lindberg said, employees are struggling to keep up with the demand.
"We knew there'd be a lot of interest, but we had no idea it would be like this," she said.
Maybe they shouldn't have been surprised — Al's Italian Beef got the same treatment when it opened a Texas location last year.
Now that Lou Malnati's has "set up shop" in the Phoenix area and moved five full-time managers there, Lindberg said, the chain might open may open more restaurants there.
People in other parts of the country, though, will still have to order their pies by mail.
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