Cubs craze spreads to the Valley, giving businesses a big boost

PHOENIX – It was the top of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field in Chicago during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and nearly 2,000 miles away in the Valley, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria was rocking as the Chicago Cubs closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The last inning is being played out and I kind of had to pinch myself, because once we won, the entire restaurant blew up,” said Bernie Pethtel, general manager of the Chicago-based pizza chain’s only Phoenix franchise. “It’s crazy, it’s loud, and I had to pinch myself thinking, ‘I’m not even in Chicago.’”

It’s been 71 years since the Cubs last reached the World Series, which returns to Wrigley Field Friday with the Cubs and Cleveland Indians tied at one game apiece.

But the recent success of the Cubs reaches far beyond the gates of Wrigley Field. Businesses in Phoenix are reaping the benefits, too.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Phoenix was the top out-of-state destination for Chicagoans looking for a new home between 2009 and 2013, averaging 7,251 people per year. Many of those Chicago transplants bring a passion for the Cubs with them.

The Cubs built Sloan Park in Mesa in 2014, which serves as the team’s Cactus League home during spring training and is home to its affiliate in the Arizona League, a short-season rookie league.

The Cubs are the biggest draw in the Cactus League. The team drew more than 226,000 fans over 15 games at 15,000-seat Sloan Park in 2016. The local Arizona Diamondbacks were a distant second in spring attendance, drawing about 43,000 fewer fans to their 11,000-seat facility at Salt River Fields over 16 games.

Clay Moizo, a Chicago native and owner of Half Moon Windy City Sports Grill in central Phoenix, said it’s the first time since 2015, when the Blackhawks were in the Stanley Cup, that his business has seen such a boom. He expects the Cubs’ World Series run to bring him similar results.

“Our sales that month increased from 30 to 40 percent,” Moizo said. “There’s obviously a tremendous spike when there’s a Chicago game.”

Prior to Game 1 of the World Series, Moizo already had about a dozen family-style tables reserved, and was expecting to be at full capacity – 400 patrons – for the night’s viewing. The restaurant also roasted a goat in hope of breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat, a supposed hex that dates to the 1945 World Series.

But Moizo believes that $2 Old Styles and Chicago-style cracker-crust pizza aren’t all that draw large numbers of Cubs fans to his place. It’s the unique atmosphere, reminiscent of Chicago bar culture.

“When you’re here for games, it feels like home,” Moizo said. “We get together. We sing the seventh-inning stretch. We sing ‘Go Cubs Go.’ We fly the W.”

Like Half Moon Windy City Sports Grill, Pethtel anticipates an big turnout at Lou Malnati’s for the Series.

“We get phone calls on a daily basis asking, ‘Are you going to have the game on tonight?’” Pethtel said. “So I expect us to definitely be booming.”

The restaurant business isn’t the only industry that benefits from the success of the Cubs.

Sid Ishmail, owner of Flag World in the downtown Arizona Center, said he is hopeful the Cubs break through their 108-year championship drought, which could prove to be profitable for his business.

Ismail said the iconic “Cubs Win” flags are a hot commodity right now. The flags feature a blue W displayed on a white background. The team has flown the W at Wrigley Field following Cubs victories since 1937.

“A lot of people call in and ask if we carry them or not,” Ismail said. “The day after they became participants in the World Series, we had very good sales, especially in our Scottsdale store.”

Ismail said that Flag World has seen an increase of Cubs merchandise sales throughout the Valley. He said he expects to see a year-end profit of up to $50,000 if the Cubs win it all.

Both Lou Malnati’s and Half Moon Windy City Sports Grill hang the W flags in their establishments.

“One of our managers, Alexis, just by chance, her aunt was visiting this past weekend and she brought the W flag for us,” Pethtel said. “And when the Cubs won, two of the staff members pulled down the flag and they’re coming in and out of the restaurant . . . The customers were going wild.”

With the series 1-1, the Cubs will need to fly the W three more times during the World Series for a celebration that might just spread from Wrigleyville to the Valley of the Sun.