Pulse: Riverwalk Pizza offers quick eats to the stars

Mike MacGaffey, general manager and Richard Jeffery, owner of Riverwalk pizza show off their wall of celebrities who they have served in the past year and a half.  |  Judy Buchenot~For Sun-Times Media
Sara Evans performs "A Little Bit Stronger" during the 45th Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band got hungry while performing at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville last October. During a break, Shepherd asked if someone could quickly get the band something to eat. The Wentz staff knew exactly who to call for the rushed order.

“Mike MacGaffey at Riverwalk Pizza always comes through for us,” says Brian Lynch, fine arts director at North Central College. “He went out of his way for Kenny Wayne Shepherd and had the food here right on time. And he’s got good food.”

On Chicago Avenue near Wentz Concert Hall and just blocks away from Pfeiffer Hall, Riverwalk Pizza has become the go-to place for hungry performers. MacGaffey, the general manager, is thrilled to be called to fill celebrity orders.

“We are feeding the stars one slice at a time,” he says.

Every time he gets an order from a famished famous artist, he saves the order ticket and mounts it with a publicity photo on a wall in the pizzeria to chronicle his celebrity contacts.

One of the most memorable orders came from country superstar Sara Evans.

“I got a call from Tammy, who works for North Central College, and she asked me how fast I could make four pizzas and 50 wings,” MacGaffey recalls. “Sara Evans, who tours with her two daughters, wanted pizza for her children and the band. I got it there in 25 minutes.”

The next day, he said Tammy called him again with a special surprise.

“(She) said that Sara loved the pizza and wanted to have it again that night,” MacGaffey says. “And Sara gave me two free tickets to the show with backstage passes to meet her.”

His brother was happy to go to the show with him.

“Afterwards Tammy introduced me as ‘the pizza guy,’ and Sara was all smiles as she complimented me on the pizza,” MacGaffey says.

With family members who own small restaurants, she gave him a whole-hearted endorsement. The superstar also posed for a photo, which is now part of MacGaffey’s wall of fame in the restaurant.

“She told me, ‘I’m a real food girl, not a fast-food girl,’” MacGaffey says.

So what do the stars eat?

MacGaffey notes that “people who are famous get hungry just like anyone else.”

Foreigner recently performed at Pfeiffer Hall and ordered four pizzas: a veggie, a meat supreme, a pepperoni and a cheese with 50 wings on the side. Other stars have feasted on Riverwalk Pizza, including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, 5 for Fighting and the entire cast of Rent.

Richard Jeffery, Riverwalk Pizza owner, says his location is perfect for concertgoers.

“We get people coming in before and after the shows,” he says. “I think the variety of performers is really cool. One day it is an opera star, then Yo-Yo Ma and then Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Lots of times performers are in the middle of a set and feel hungry and want something to eat right away. We try to make it happen for them.”

Making food for a famous person is intense, MacGaffey says.

“I want the food to be perfect, so I get a few butterflies in my stomach when I work on the order,” he says. “I know they have high expectations, and I want to meet them so they remember our pizza.”

Sustainable living

NCC decorates with ‘green’ initiative

North Central College gave the environment a “green” Christmas present this year. The college used sustainable alternatives to artificial holiday decorations.

Traditionally, the college has displayed seven large, artificial wreaths at Old Main, Oesterle Library and other locations around campus. The wreaths used a significant amount of aluminum and plastics, in addition to the energy required to manufacture and transport them. The past several years, however, have been different. All but two of the artificial wreaths were replaced by living evergreen trees and other natural décor.

“Evergreen trees are a renewable resource, which help clean the air as they grow,” says Brittany Graham, the college’s sustainability coordinator. After the Christmas season, the trees are transplanted in the soil around the Residence Hall/Recreation Center, Merner Field House and other campus locations ­— something that would be impossible with synthetic decorations.

“Artificial trees are made from petroleum, which is a nonrenewable resource that harms the environment in numerous ways throughout its use cycle, from extraction to disposal,” Graham says. “Real garland, wreaths and trees are much more sustainable than artificial.”

The festive flora is decorated with glass, gold and cardinal ornaments, representing North Central’s mascot. All are reusable for the next holiday season.

In addition to sustainable decorations, the college has committed to reducing its energy footprint while students are away. While the campus is closed during the holiday breaks, temperatures in all buildings are lowered to about 60 degrees, warm enough to protect the buildings while using significantly less energy.

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