After 45 years, Joe’s Italian Villa gets booted
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org December 30, 2013 9:08PM
Updated: February 3, 2014 2:53PM
For 45 years, Joe’s Italian Villa has been serving pizza and other homemade recipes for a devoted following at the tiny restaurant in a Bridgeview strip mall.
But all good things, it has been said, must come to an end. And that goes for restaurant owners who still want to stay in business.
Brixmor, the company that owns the strip mall, has decided to go in a different direction, leaving Joe’s owners, brothers Frank and Joe Serio, in a jam.
Their last day in business will be Tuesday, New Year’s Eve. After the last champagne flute is rinsed and the pizza ovens turned off for the final time, Joe’s Italian Villa, 8807 Harlem Ave., will be homeless. They have to move out by Jan. 7.
Brixmor spokeswoman Kristen Moore said they have “other demands for the space. While they’ve been a good tenant for us and they’ve been successful in our shopping center, unfortunately we’re going to part ways.”
Asked why a successful business lost its lease, she declined to comment other than “we have demand for the space. We had other interests.” Asked if more money was being offered by a new tenant, she would only say that “their lease expired.”
She declined to identify the new tenant, but Frank Serio said he has a heard a “bistro with gaming machines is coming in here.”
That’s not the Serio style. Since his grandfather started the pizza parlor at 63rd and Stewart in Chicago in 1947, the focus has been on families. Having a family in for dinner and watching Pops shuffle off to spend his paycheck on video gambling didn’t appeal to Frank, Joe or Jane, Frank’s wife of 33 years.
They’ve been in the strip mall since 1968, a few months after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, when white-owned pizzerias in a black community on the South Side suddenly wasn’t a good fit. But Bridgeview was, as evidenced by the long line on a recent Thursday night, with customers stopping for pizzas to take home.
Leaving their home of 45 years is hard on the family.
“I can’t retire. I’m 58,” Frank, a Bridgeview resident, said. “This blindsided us. We were driving home from Peoria when we got the call. That was a long drive.”
Joe, 54, of Oak Lawn, thinks “this could be the best thing that ever happened to us. We need a bigger place. On a Friday or Saturday, we don’t have enough room.”
The past few weeks, countless longtime customers have been coming in for their last suppers. Frank and his family have been overwhelmed by all the support.
“We’re on our fourth generation in some families,” he said.
Dennis Blust, of Country Club Hills, who works in nearby Chicago Ridge, likes stopping for lunch.
“It’s the best. It’s made right. Good sauce. Good sausage. Good pizza,” Blust said.
Kathy Smith, of Justice, has been coming to Joe’s since she was a little girl and her mother brought the family there.
“I can’t get over it (closing),” said Smith, whose extended family was at Joe’s for a birthday party for her husband, Tony.
Reenie Powell, who has waited tables for the Serios the past 36 years, said it’s “like working for family.” She prepares the soups every day. Joe makes the sausage.
“Food and family,” Jane said, “those have been the keys.”
Carl and Karen Batzel, of Burbank, who eat at Joe’s two or three times a week, agreed with Jane.
“With all the franchises, there aren’t too many Mom and Pop places left,” said Carl, who works in web design for Apple and volunteered to set up the restaurant’s website. “They are fewer and fewer. It’s a unique set up. You come in, there are the owners. I consider all the Serios very good friends. No matter where they go, we’ll follow them. But I’m going to miss this place.”
The Serio family wants to stay in the area, looking for something similar to the current 2,300 square feet. They checked one strip mall in Oak Lawn, “but they wanted twice the rent,” Jane said.
The family has been floored by the outpouring of support from customers. Photos through the years are posted on the website, www.joesitalianvilla.com.
“People are so loyal. We have people who moved away, and when they fly into Midway, their first stop is here for dinner. It’s very flattering,” Frank said.
Business has been down the past four or five years, Jane said, but they’re still paying the rent. Well, that is, at least until Tuesday.