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After headhunter, pizza restaurant latest career for Oak Lawn man

Owner Tim Stretch looks as cook Oscar Ivarrcuts up pizzStretchino's PizzeriChicago Ridge Illinois Tuesday January 22 2013. | Joseph P.

Owner Tim Stretch looks on as cook Oscar Ivarra cuts up a pizza at Stretchino's Pizzeria in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, Tuesday, January 22, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:26AM



If motivational speaker Tony Robbins owned a pizza joint, he might sound a bit like Tim Stretch.

A former health care jobs recruiter, the Oak Lawn resident talks about how most people refuse to leave their comfort zone, and everyone needs to fail a few times if they want to succeed.

His Chicago Ridge pizza restaurant has been open a little more than a month, but already he sounds like someone who’s convinced he’s on the cusp of building a pizza empire in the Southland.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Stretch started cleaning and painting what formerly was Papa Luigi’s, another pizza restaurant at 10729 S. Ridgeland Ave., and he opened Stretchino’s Pizzeria on Dec. 17. Along with pizzas, Stretchino’s sells sandwiches and appetizers.

While he’s never operated a restaurant before, family and friends raved about his homemade pizzas and Italian beef, nudging him to think about opening his own place.

“Chicago is one of the toughest markets in the country for pizza,” Stretch said, noting that even his 16-year-old son questioned why Dad wanted to give up the good money he was pulling down as a health care recruiter to venture into such a crowded market.

“You have to put yourself out there for failure,” Stretch said. “Most people live in a comfort zone and won’t go outside that. I’m the type of person, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Stretch — who used to sell copying machines, then, later, telecommunications services to businesses — knows that, in sales, cold-calling is key to developing business. Simply opening the doors and hoping customers will show up is a recipe for failure, he said.

Stretch, who turns 48 Sunday, has been delivering complimentary pizzas to area businesses and fire stations, hoping the freebies will turn into regular customers. When he’s ready to close up for the night, he drops off some slices at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post just down the street. Meat for his sandwiches and other items comes from his neighbor, Pat & Jack’s Old Fashioned Market.

“It’s just a matter of getting the word out,” he said.

Not a homebody

Stretch grew up on the city’s North Side, then lived in Lyons and Berwyn. He spent five years in Texas, where he missed the taste of the food he grew up with, mainly Chicago-style pizza and Italian beef. Returning to the Chicago area in 2009, he began to think hard about what he wanted to do next, and was listening to friends who were encouraging him to open a restaurant.

“I had been working at home (with his recruiting business) for 10 years and I got tired of being at home,” Stretch said. “I really missed that interaction with people.”

Stretch made up pizzas and brought those, along with pizzas from other local restaurants, to conduct blind taste tests outside local stores. He said most of the people who tried his preferred it, giving him further encouragement.

He said he’d settled on the name “Stretchino’s” long before he opened his doors. Stretch said his sister suggested “Stretch’s Place,” but he felt that sounded too singular.

“I want to have more than one place,” he said.

Though the pizzeria’s been open for less than two months, Stretch said “business is starting to take off,” and that customers have flattered and enthused him by comparing his pizza to those served by better-known, established restaurants.

“I’m not a household name yet,” he said. “I want to be that household name.”



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