As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, there was only one place to go after coming home from the bar at 2 am. You wanted something cheap and greasy, and Chubby’s had just what the doctor ordered. Though I wasn’t much for the bar scene, I ate my fair share of Chubby’s over the years. It was the largest pizza in Charleston for the best price, and just a short walk from campus.
Leon and Lisa Hall opened a Topper’s Pizza in the Midtown Plaza strip mall at 215 Lincoln Avenue in 1995. Topper’s is a restaurant chain founded by Scott Gittrich in Champaign, Illinois in 1991, but Leon and Lisa found themselves alone after the original location closed. After three years, the couple felt they weren’t benefiting from the franchise, so they decided to go their own way and rebranded as Chubby’s Pizza.
They kept the same menu but were able to lower prices because they were no longer paying franchise fees. “The Topper”, a 20-inch pizza with 12 toppings, became “The Big Chubby.” Why the name Chubby’s? Leon told the Daily Eastern News, “I’ve put on a few pounds since I’ve owned the place.”
As a college town, Charleston has many pizza joints aside from the usual franchises. Jerry’s Pizza (recently torn down) comes to mind. Some, like Pagliai’s, have been open since my dad attended EIU in the late 1960s. But when it comes to after-bar meals, no one beats Chubby’s. It was only delivery or carry out, there were no tables or chairs.
“If I don’t get Chubby’s, then I usually don’t get anything,” Sigma Nu President Matt Carlstrom told the Daily Eastern News in 2004. According to Leon Hall, their most active hours are from 10 pm until close. He told the DEN a majority of students ordering after midnight are drunk, and most order cheese sticks. As I recall, Chubby’s cheese sticks were just a small cheese pizza cut into strips without the sauce.
They gave away refrigerator magnets with the schedules of different sports teams every year, including the EIU Panthers, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bears. “Stick with a hometown team,” they said.
I had my own fun with Chubby’s in February 2004 when I successfully sold a piece of Chubby’s pizza on Ebay for $2.26. I threw in some Chubby’s swag, including a delivery menu, refrigerator magnet, and I think a pen too. I actually got six bids, and sent it priority mail frozen in a Ziploc bag. That’s pretty gross, now that I think about it, because my friends and I ordered the pizza on January 30, almost a week before it sold! I guess the buyer just wanted in on the joke.
Even in 2012, long after I graduated and moved on, and even in the wake of EIU’s sharp enrollment decline, Chubby’s was going strong. “When I was a freshman, I ate out at Chubby’s around 90 percent of the time,” senior business management major Joe LaHood told the Daily Eastern News.
Their Yelp! reviews are blunt and to the point, and full of love. In July 2013, user Andy L. wrote: “The absolute best drunk food I have ever had. XL Chubbys stix + a ton of dipping sauces insured you’d feel great at the time but regret it in the morning. I miss it so god damn much.”
“Chubby’s is the best greasy food a college kid could ever want,” Chela G. agreed. “It’s great drunk food and everyone loves it.”
According to their website, Chubby’s is still in business, but their storefront sure could use an upgrade. The sign is fading fast after all these years. But it’s comforting to know that students at EIU can still enjoy a giant greasy pizza from a former favorite.
“Local pizza place to change its name, get a little ‘Chubby’,” The Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 26 August 1998.
“Appeasing the angry drunk stomach: grease wins,” The Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 2 April 2004.
“Pizza selection provides budget friendly options,” The Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 26 January 2012.