A Slice of Success: Mindy Kaplan, '86, Dishes on her Career at Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
By Lia Kizilbash Gillet
Americans love their pizza, and on National Pizza Day (observed on February 9), there is an even greater buzz and enthusiasm for all things cheesy.
But for Mindy Kaplan, ‘86, senior director of communications for Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, pizza isn’t just a once-a-year celebration.
In her current role, Kaplan works closely to grow and develop Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria’s managers and team members and works on creative public relations projects, like going to New York City and convincing comedian, television host, and Manhattan-born Jon Stewart that deep dish pizza isn’t a casserole!
Before this, Kaplan was Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria’s marketing director for almost 15 years. Responsible for all corporate marketing efforts and the commerce shipping division, “Tastes of Chicago by Lou Malnati’s,” Kaplan helped grow both businesses through grassroots marketing, advertising, public relations and business relationships.
“When I started at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, we had 19 locations. We now have 80, and the commerce shipping division business is more than ten times what it was when I started,” shared Kaplan.
In addition to working with Jon Stewart to get him to say that Lou Malnati’s pizza was good (after he went on a rant about Chicago-style pizza on his Daily Show), Kaplan fondly remembers a pizzeria opening in Phoenix, Arizona, where her team secured helicopters to show the opening week lines on the local television news.
Before Kaplan mastered the art of pizza public relations, communications, and marketing, she encountered some cheesy mishaps. Early in her career at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, while still learning the restaurant business, a new location opened in Lakewood, Illinois. It started off with a bang, but sales dropped a few months later. Kaplan was charged with growing sales and bringing customers back in, but a simple marketing promotion turned into a dough disaster. The pizzeria was left drowning in a sea of hungry customers clamoring for half-price pizzas—with no cap on their cravings.
“I partnered with the owner of the business and the restaurant’s general manager to brainstorm some ideas,” explained Kaplan. “We came up with a ‘Dog Days of Summer’ promotion where we offered half prices on Tuesdays during August. I had no idea I needed to put restrictions on the promotion. We had lines out the door. The lobby was so packed people couldn’t get to the counter to get their pizzas, and customers were ordering ten pizzas at a time to take home for dinner for the rest of the week!”
Kaplan laughs, saying she still gets grief about that promotion.
Growing up in Dixon, Illinois, Kaplan always enjoyed writing and felt composed under pressure and during times of crisis—which was critical during the pandemic when her communication team was a crucial part of Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria’s success at that time. She refined her communication skills and attended NIU, graduating with a degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations.
“NIU was the place I chose to chase my dreams, and I am proud of the accredited journalism degree I received that helped me reach them,” said Kaplan.
She smiles, thinking about NIU basketball games where she watched her now husband, David, as an assistant basketball coach.
“Although he was a coach the same four years while I was at NIU, we never met,” said Kaplan. “We met 13 years later and have been married for 20 years. David is now a sports broadcaster in Chicago for ESPN Radio, and he has always believed in me and supported me in my career.”
Kaplan began at Pace Suburban Bus, where she grew her career, taking on responsibilities such as managing sales, advertising, community outreach, marketing and marketing research. To further her growth, Kaplan attended DePaul University’s Saturday M.B.A. Program.
“I was a single mom raising three young boys at the time,” said Kaplan. “My parents were instrumental in helping me complete my M.B.A. with honors since they cared for my children on Saturdays so I could focus on school. My children were also incredibly understanding when I missed their soccer games and other events. I was balancing my family, working full time as a marketing director, and completing my M.B.A.”
Kaplan attributes her career success not only to the support she received from others, but also to her innate curiosity, her willingness to adapt, grow, and change, and her ability to view life's challenges as opportunities to learn something new.
"For me, success is loving what I do, being a part of a great company, and supporting others in their growth,” she said. “If I can enjoy going to work every day, bring joy to others through the best pizza in the world, and help others achieve personal and professional growth, then I have succeeded.”
When it comes to Kaplan’s favorite pizza, it’s simple: Lou Malnati Pizzeria’s “The Classic” deep dish pizza with sausage and a little extra cheese.
Click the image below to watch Lou Malnati's response to Jon Stewart's rant about Chicago-style deep dish pizza.