SW Side sausage purveyor Rosario’s shutting its doors
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org December 16, 2011 9:04PM
Updated: January 19, 2012 10:40AM
Kathy Salus says she’s ready to see a real lighthouse.
The six-foot wood one in the back yard of her Evergreen Park home — the one with the light inside that clicks on at dusk and shuts off at dawn — is as close as she’s come, but that’s going to change.
To get there means closing a business her parents, Roy and Mary Repole, started nearly six decades ago in their tiny apartment on Chicago’s Southwest Side. It is likely the last Christmas at Rosario’s Italian Foods, where tradition is sacrosanct and a big sign out front depicts pigs trotting off to slaughter.
Retirement for Salus, 68, and her husband, Larry, 69, will mean an end to the handmade meatballs, Italian sausage and beef that are Rosario’s hallmarks and have won them legions of devoted customers.
“We’ve come to the point where I don’t want to work six days a week,” Kathy Salus said.
For Larry, it’s a chance to reconnect with the other true love in his life, fishing. For the couple, who’ve been married 48 years, it will mean spending more time with their five grandkids — a sixth is on the way — and, after 22 years without one, finally taking a real vacation.
Kathy, whose house is decorated with miniature lighthouses, knows where she wants to go first.
“I want to see a real lighthouse,” she said.
The Saluses have a tentative deal to sell the building and the land where Rosario’s stands, at 8611 S. Pulaski Road, but have rebuffed offers to sell the business itself. Their kids are grown with careers of their own — their two sons are lawyers, with one practicing in Tinley Park, and their daughter is a schoolteacher.
“It would be very hard for me to sell the business, the name, the recipes,” Kathy Salus said. “There are things more valuable than money.”
‘100 percent unchanged’
Neither of Salus’ parents finished high school, and Roy — his given name was Rosario — worked nights at a bakery. The business got its start thanks to a gift Kathy’s uncle gave to Mary — a small, hand-cranked sausage stuffer, which is still on display at the store. Mary and Roy started making and selling Italian sausage out of their apartment in 1955.
“The sausage recipe is 100 percent unchanged” from when her parents made it, Kathy said.
Her mom’s recipes for the sausage, Italian beef and meatballs are closely guarded family secrets, although some customers have tried to pry the information from the Saluses. We can tell you that coarse-ground pork and whole fennel are key to making the sausage.
“People on the North Side of the city put garlic in their Italian sausage. That is just blasphemy,” she said. “Fennel is what makes it Italian sausage.”
And the sausage has fans both near and far. It’s been sent to virtually every state in the country as well as overseas.
One regular visitor from Dallas would drop off a suitcase, which Rosario’s employees would stuff with nearly 90 pounds of frozen sausage. The man would pick up the suitcase on his way to the airport.
By freezing the packages of sausage individually, they wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, so fresh sausage was packed and the suitcase placed in the
shop’s walk-in freezer, Salus
Sausage and ricotta cheese from Rosario’s are always on the shopping list of Jackie Petrizzo and her daughter, Cathy.
“I will truly miss it,” Jackie said. “There’s no place on the South Side like this.”
Friends who grew up here but now live outside the Chicago area will take home a suitcase full of Rosario’s products when they visit, Cathy said.
Maria Acosta said she just discovered Rosario’s two weeks ago and is “freaking out” about the pending closure.
“I’m like ‘Don’t go,’ ” the Southwest Side resident said.
About that sign...
Stretching along the front of the building, the massive lighted sign shows pigs voluntarily hurling themselves into a meat grinder and being converted to sausage. While some are offended, Salus said “99 percent of the comments are positive.”
“It’s got a life of its own,” she said of the sign. “Now the big question is, what are we doing with the sign?”
Once they close on the sale in February, the couple have to clear out the store. That means unloading tons of kitchen equipment, not to mention a basement full of stuff — you name it, it’s down there — that includes the sign from Rosario’s short-lived shop in Tinley Park. Customers never really embraced the satellite location, and when the landlord boosted the rent to $4,000 a month that sealed its fate.
Salus admitted that there is “a lot of regret” about closing, which could come at the end of March or early April, but she and her husband can’t keep up this pace forever.
“We need to get on with our lives, we need to do things.”