The Internet Is Calling This Chicago Festival 'the Fyre Fest of Pizza'

“I couldn’t deal with the chaos anymore.”

Chicagoans have long history of getting fired up about pizza, but thanks to a recent pizza festival debacle, they’re getting “Fyred” up over it too. In this case, though, the controversy is less about squabbling over the merits of deep-dish, and more about a pizza festival fiasco—mired in mishaps and chaotic crowds—that led to a flurry of social media rage and biting hashtags like #coalfyrefestival, #garbagefest, and most frequently, #shitshow.

So what exactly happened here that turned The Salt Shed into a veritable Great Exuma over this past weekend? It’s all centered around the innocuous-sounding Pizza City Fest, a concept that—on paper—sounds like a bullseye in a pizza-loving town like Chicago. The problem, though, was that it all was soon mired in what sounds like logistical nightmares, overpriced tickets, and impossibly long lines. It also doesn’t help that Steve Dolinsky, one of the most polarizing figures in the Chicago dining scene, was at its epicenter, pulling a Billy McFarland by seemingly overpromising and under-delivering.

A longtime TV journalist on the local food beat, masquerading as The Hungry Hound and signing framed photos for restaurants whether they wanted it or not, Dolinsky pivoted in more of a pizza-specific direction of late, running pizza tours in Chicago, authoring a pizza book, and hosting a pizza podcast. Naturally, the next extension of his pizza brand was Pizza City Fest, which debuted at Plumbers Union Hall in 2022. Despite some hiccups, it was apparently successful enough to warrant a sophomore effort: a two-day pizza festival in a splashy new location, where attendees could sample different pizza styles from 40 vendors, including lauded restaurants Vito & Nick’s and Bungalow by Middlebrow, coupled with panelists, live music, and all-you-can-drink booze options, all for $95 per ticket. Sounds fun in theory, but if the social media backlash is any indication, that theory didn’t pan out.

The resulting hot takes have been spicier than soppressata. On Instagram, posts from Pizza City Fest have been flooded with angry customers decrying chaotic crowds and bottlenecked lines that made it impossible to wait for more than a few slices. Users claim Pizza City deleted posts, to help mask the mayhem, while others describe the event as a nightmare, with lines that took 30 - 45 minutes to snag a single slice, and a complete lack of organization. One user said “I’d rather stay home and order pizza than attend a pizza city shit show.” Another: “Lol, if you are going to charge bonkers prices you better be able to deliver.” And another: “Left after 3 slices because I couldn’t deal with the chaos anymore.” On Reddit, a Pizza City Fest Chicago thread has not been much kinder, with more echoes of “shit show” and overpriced tickets, and one commenter expressing hope for a future Netflix special.

Seasoned Chicago food writer Michael Nagrant had maybe the spiciest take of all, which you can read on his Substack The Hunger. He writes extensively about the event in a post called “Pizza Fest Has No Sauce” and expresses dismay for customers who felt duped and vendors who felt used, and even suggests that Mayor Brandon Johnson investigate the festival’s consumer complaints.

“Vendors and restaurants should also reexamine their FOMO about collaborating with the Hound,” Nagrants writes. “Unless of course they just love the Fyre.”

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Matt Kirouac is a Thrillist contributor.