People, purpose, and passion: how Home Run Inn provides pizza perfection 

Home Run Inn is a proud, family-owned business with deep roots in the city of Chicago. In 1923, Mary and Vincent Grittani opened a small tavern on Chicago’s South Side. In 1947, Mary and her son-in-law, Nick Perrino, crafted the iconic Chicago pizza recipe known today and began serving pies to the bar’s customers. One day, a baseball from the neighborhood park smashed through one of the tavern’s windows, no doubt a home run for some young slugger. And so, Home Run Inn was born, where cold drinks and fresh, thin crust pizza have brought people together ever since. 

Cheese Ultra thin pizza boxesBack in the day, many of the original Home Run Inn’s biggest fans took fresh pizzas home to freeze for later. So, the company decided to give the people what they wanted, and began freezing a few pizzas, distributing them to neighborhood grocers, and spreading the word to loyal customers. The idea was a huge hit. What started as a novel idea turned into so much more. As the popularity of frozen pizza took off, Home Run Inn invested in its first manufacturing plant. Today, the company’s frozen pizzas are available nationwide and a second manufacturing facility was opened to keep up with demand. 

Leveling up 

Alongside its expanding manufacturing operations and the original pizzeria, the company boasts an additional eight locations in the Chicagoland area, offering everything from carry out pizzas to dining room specialty pizza and beer pairings. Food Chain is joined by Joe Carney, Senior Vice President of Operations, who shares insights into the future of this frozen favorite. 

“After the pandemic, we identified a new baseline for us from a manufacturing perspective. We never imagined that our facilities could produce what they did during that unprecedented time,” he begins. “As a result, we became confident that we could sustain this new level of production and through capital investment, training opportunities, and other efficiency or capacity improvements over the last year, we’ve been able to double our capacity. We’re unlocking the true potential of our employees, our equipment, and our processes, which is exciting to be a part of,” he enthuses. 

“I’ve been in manufacturing now for almost 20 years,” Joe continues. “I started my career in leadership roles with very large consumer packaged goods. I’ve been fortunate to work in and across many facilities and witness the manufacturing process of a variety of foods. Joining Home Run Inn over a year ago was a great opportunity for me to leverage my experience. The company was committed to the process of achieving world class and that excited me very much.  

“From a people, equipment, and process perspective, it’s all about analyzing performance and assessing employee talent and engagement with the aim of raising the bar. The goal is to reduce the amount of time it takes to reach the next level. We’re building that road map and have made tremendous progress over the past year. Establishing the right team and having the right people in the right seats, doing the right things is crucial. From an overall performance perspective our teams have achieved great things across all functional areas including improvements in people, safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Consequently, we’re able to reinvest in our people and focus on employee experience. We want everyone who works here to be here long term and to enjoy coming to work every day. Our turnover rate is low, and we’ve done a great job establishing recognition programs to keep people motivated and feeling appreciated. 

“We are focused on trends versus fads and benchmark ourselves against other companies to ensure we are on the right path. Pizza bases on production lineWe’ve leveraged new technologies to better support and drive our operations management systems with the intent of driving out loss in time, energy, and waste. We are investing in equipment automation to further improve capacities in people and process. We are steadfast in driving a continuous improvement culture and fostering a learning environment for all employees. With that being said, pizza making is still an art and we will continue to utilize our number-one asset, our people, to put the final touches on our wonderful offerings.” 

Expanding product portfolio 

The company has been on a steep improvement path over the last year, setting records all the time. “We’re trying to gain a better understanding of what’s truly possible for our operations and we’re finding that there’s a lot of capacity we didn’t know we had,” Joe continues. “We want to make the most of that capacity for our current and future employees and are even looking at business development opportunities outside of the world of pizza to facilitate that. Over the next couple of years, we’ll be exploring how we can expand beyond our pizza products to provide a multi-brand offering. The frozen sector presents opportunities within multiple segments. We have great relationships with our retailers; some of whom are looking for alternative products and we want to be able to support them. So, we’re exploring how we can continue to grow the Home Run Inn business while diversifying our product portfolio overall. We want to ensure we exploit the full potential of our two manufacturing facilities with the long-term goal of expanding our footprint. We are leaving all options open at this point regarding growth opportunities. 

“We are on a world-class journey, not just in terms of plant performance but also corporate culture. We want to become one of the top places to work in the nation, offering the best benefits to our employees and future top talent. Our purpose,” he concludes, “is to create smiles from our guests, trust from our team members, and love from our communities – it’s that simple.”