Michael Clark’s family has been in the restaurant business for a very long time, beginning in the mid-1950s when his dad, Ed, started working at Joe and Dick’s Pizza Ranch. After five years, Ed and Joe opened a place together in Tinley Park, where they did pizza carry-out and delivery. They opened February 6th 1961, and Ed bought Joe out after a year together in business, but he decided to keep the name “Ed n Joe’s.”
As a teenage pizza apprentice, Michael began working under the watchful eye of his father. Eventually, in 1978, Michael purchased Ed n Joe’s from him. Working long hours, he built up the small carry-out and delivery business, eventually expanding to a full service restaurant in 1984. He purchased the property in 1990 and began laying the groundwork for the grand scale, renovated eatery you see today—a full service pizzeria with an eclectic dinner menu offering sandwiches, steaks, chops, and pastas.
In addition to stone-baked, thin-crust pizzas, Ed n Joe’s is also locally famous for it’s bountiful Taco pizza as well as deep dish, stuffed, and their delectable BBQ Chicken pizza. Ed n Joe’s also has a successful catering business and a private party room for business meetings and special events.
The cozy, cathedral ceiling bar, accented with hardwood floors, is well stocked with craft beers and great wines. Live acoustic music resonates off the dark wood beams every Thursday though Sunday night.
GROWING UP IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS
In Michael’s Own Words:
Growing up as kids, the whole family was involved, and we did things back then that would never be accepted by the health department today. We used to cook the inside rounds at home in two ovens everyday, and our delivery drivers would pick them up in the evenings and take them back to the restaurant. We also used to do all the homemade coleslaw at home using those little hand-graters. Maybe that’s why the whole family has short, stubby fingers!
These were our weekly chores and, for us, it was no different than taking the garbage out might be in other households. We were all involved: my brothers and sisters would work in the restaurant with my dad, and he also worked downtown. He would get off the train at 6:00 p.m. and work in the restaurant until midnight, and then come home go to bed. I never understood why he was always crabby when I was a kid, but now that I own the restaurant I fully understand it. This is also why I don’t have a second job.
Beginning at Age Eleven
The morning I got involved in the restaurant is still quite vivid in my memory. It was a Saturday, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with my parents. For some reason, my dad was short-handed. He needed someone to help out, so he asked my mom if she thought I was old enough and mature enough to do it. I was only eleven years old at the time! My mom said she thought I could handle it.
After that, I helped out in the restaurant on Friday and Saturday evenings, but my dad wouldn’t let me come out front. I had to stay in the back in the food prep area of the kitchen. I was too young to be seen by the customers, or to cook the burgers and chicken, but I used to cut the mozzarella cheese, make fresh pizza dough, and mix our pizza meat. I worked for $2 an hour and my dad would take half of it, which went towards taxes and savings.
I had other responsibilities, too. I went to the Catholic school around the corner from our pizza shop, and every day when I walked home from school I would first stop in the tavern in the other part of the building and get our keys. Then I would go into our part of the building and turn on all the ovens, steam tables, and fryers so when we opened at 5:00 p.m. everything would be hot. Then I would walk home about another mile. I did this every day during the week.
I worked all the way through high school, gradually taking on more and more responsibility like making pizza, working the line, and working more nights. When I turned sixteen, I started driving and delivering pizzas. So that’s how I got started in the restaurant business.
Transition to Ownership
My dad offered me the business in June of 1976, but I turned it down initially because I had just graduated high school. I didn’t want to jump in owning my own business so soon. However, two years later in January 1978, my situation changed and he offered me the business again.
This time I was interested, but first he made me save $5,000 before he would turn it over to me. When we signed a contract, my mom was very angry with him over it. My dad told her, “I’m not just going to give the business to him, because he won’t appreciate it unless he has invested something in it.”
He was absolutely right. If he had just given it to me, I wouldn’t have cared so much about it. It took me five years to pay off the contract. The day I took over the business happened to be New Years Eve, and at the stroke of midnight, I put on The Who song: “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” because there was a phrase in the song that said: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” I played it full blast. The restaurant was finally mine!
But owning Ed n Joe’s turned out to be the most difficult time of my life. Here I was 19 years old, and I thought I knew everything there was to know about the business, but really I didn’t know anything. Thank God, my brother Rick helped me do the books.
I’ve never worked anywhere else in my life. I’ve only filled out one job application, and that was at a pipe-making company. They called me for an interview but I never went. So I’ve been working in this business since 1978 and it’s my life.
Ellen worked next door to the restaurant at the Ad Specialties Company, and she started sticking her head in the door and buying cans of pop at lunch. We started talking and went on a date. She was just turning 21, and it was nothing serious, but we keep courting back and forth for about two years.
We used to have fresh flowers on the tables, and I would sneak into the Ad Specialties Company every Monday and put flowers on her desk. We were married in 1987, and she just started working along with the rest of us until our son, Alex, was born in 1989. Ellen took four years off to raise him, but we have such a family business that you can’t help but be involved.
From Carry-Out to Formal Dining
We did carry-out and delivery until around 1984. The tavern part of the building was called “Fee’s Pub.” We were just leasing our part of the building for all those years—we never owned it. The Village of Tinley Park definitely didn’t like the way the owner was running the pub because the manager was into drugs. One night, a big bust went down when the police found 50 pounds of weed in the basement. The liquor license was pulled by the State of Illinois and the pub was shut down.
The owner approached me about the situation, and we started using the restaurant section of the pub. We took a little part of the dining room, because he wouldn’t give us the rest of the space. He had dreams of reopening, but he ended up giving us the whole area after six months, and so we expanded. We didn’t do a whole lot of remodeling, only what the Village required us to do with new wiring.
We kept the original decor of the pub. For many years, the bar was in the main dining room and it was not being used. The village wouldn’t even allow me to serve liquor for the first year because the license had been revoked in the building.
Eventually we got our license, but the restaurant still had the old, dark walnut paneling, red carpet, and booths. Over the years, we slowly changed things. Around the time the Village of Tinley Park was gearing up for a revitalization program, Ellen and I realized we were at a crossroads and needed to make a major change in the way we did business. We didn’t have any chefs; our menu was fast food- ish; and I didn’t have any formal background in cooking. We were successful with our pizzas, but we needed to grow. We realized we had to either put the business up for sale or take a leap to the next level.
We decided that we really did love the business, so in 2000 we started looking for a chef and we found Chef Kinkaid. We’ve made many changes to put some formality in our kitchen, including more elaborate pasta dishes, fresh fish, pork chops and steak, and improved plate presentation.
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Michael Clark was born and raised in Tinley Park, and still resides there with his wife, Ellen; their two children, Amanda and Alex; their son-in-law, Will; and three granddaughters, Katrina, Rebekah and Teresa.
Michael Clark is the Chairman of the Main Street Commission and an active member of the Tinley Park Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Tinley. He is also a strong sponsoring supporter of the Tinley Park Bulldogs and the Tinley Park Bobcats.
After nearly a lifetime in the restaurant business, Michael remains committed to great food at great prices. His employees affectionately call him “The Pizza King,” and they strive to make sure his restaurant keeps people smiling, raving about, and returning to Ed n Joe’s.
You just have to laugh, have a good sense of humor and enjoy life. – Michael Clark