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Johnsburg man seeks backing for pizza place

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 4:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 12:15 p.m. CDT
(Northwest Herald file photo)
Josh Downey, maker of Chicago Johnny's giardiniera, poses for a portrait at his home in 2013. Downey is seeking public support to open the first Chicago Johnny's restaurant in his hometown of Johnsburg.
(Northwest Herald file photo)
Josh Downey, founder of Chicago Johnny's, prepares an italian sausage with his giardiniera in 2013 while at home in McHenry. Downey is seeking public support to open the first Chicago Johnny's restaurant in Johnsburg.

JOHNSBURG – A local foodie is hoping to bring a new pizza joint to Johnsburg with a little entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of help from fellow McHenry County residents.

Owner of home-based giardiniera company Chicago Johnny’s, Josh Downey is seeking public support to open the first Chicago Johnny’s restaurant in his hometown.

“This is like, I finally feel after 30 years, I know what I want to do with my life,” Downey said. “Opening a restaurant is my dream.”

He’s taken to crowdfunding website Kickstarter in hopes that friends, family and pizza-loving strangers might help bring his dream to fruition.

Downey said he’s still got a long way to go, with a goal of $80,000 and just about $1,000 pledged so far.

“[The $80,000] would help cover a down payment on a lease, minor renovations and money to carry it through the first couple weeks,” he said.

In exchange for donations, Downey is offering rewards such as an in-home Chicago Johnny’s pizza party.

Bringing the idea to the village of Johnsburg made sense, he said, not only because it’s the place where he grew up, but because he’s always known it to be a place willing to support local businesses.

“The people who have seen and tried my food love it,” he said.

Downey described his artisan-style pizza as rustic and earthy, featuring thin or deep dish crust made with a mix of whole wheat and semolina flour.

His intention, apart from serving and selling quality homemade food and products, is to establish Chicago Johnny’s as a family-friendly community restaurant, Downey said.

Chicago Johnny’s, which he trademarked for both his home-based giardiniera business as well as for a future restaurant, was founded by him in 2012 after he was laid off from a job he acquired right after college.

At that point, he spent much of his down time in the kitchen making giardiniera, and eventually realized it was a product people would buy. 

It began with sales at local flea markets, and within a year, Chicago Johnny’s products have reached over 20 locations from McHenry to Chicago.

“Now, I’ll take what I learned from that and focus it more on the restaurant,” he said.

The restaurant is an endeavor Downey is hoping to have off the ground by the end of fall or early winter.

To see the Chicago Johnny’s Kickstarter page, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/chicagojohnnys/chicago-johnnys-artisan-pizza-and-italian-beef-joi or www.ChicagoJohnnys.com.

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