by Leonard F. Amari
Nearly a decade ago, as a result of the vision of Anthony J. Fornelli and his dedicated committee, the Italian American Executive Hall of Fame was established at Casa Italia in Stone Park, the home of our Italian community. At the initial meeting of this committee in 2007, Chairman Fornelli suggested to the other committee members gathered — Don Bono, Jack LaBrasca, Dominic Sergi, Joseph Weber, Phyllis Muchanti and Dominic Verlotta — that it would be appropriate to have a place at Casa Italia to honor individuals from our community who have distinguished themselves in the commercial and industrial fields.
The idea quickly took hold and blossomed. Two or three honorees are selected annually and lauded at a luncheon in the fall at Casa Italia. They are introduced as their biographies are read aloud to the audience, and a wonderful portrait of the honoree, painted by accomplished artist Don Bono, is hung on the wall in the Casa’s exquisite Chandelier Room alongside a plaque highlighting some of their achievements.
Over the years, the Hall of Fame has welcomed several significant contributors in commerce and industry, including: Patrick H. Arbor, chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade; Salvatore A. Balsamo, founder of AC Worldwide Companies; Jerry Colangelo, owner and chairman of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks; Paul Davies, president of AON Benfield Reinsurance Corporation; Nello V. Ferrara, the late chairman of Ferrara Pan Candy Company; Amadeo Pietro Giannini, founder of Bank of America; Lito Anthony “Lee” Iacocca, chairman of the Chrysler Corporation; Gildo Mazzolin, founder and owner of Rex Carton Corporation; Richard P. Perillo Sr.; and Mariano Turano, founder of the Turano Baking Company.
This year, prominent and successful restaurateurs Steve Lombardo, co-founder of numerous successful and acclaimed eateries, and Phil Stefani, founder of the Stefani Restaurant and Signature Events Group, were honored at the annual luncheon, held Nov. 16, 2012.
This year’s luncheon also brought with it a surprise for the Hall’s chairman, Anthony J. Fornelli. He also was recognized as a contributor to commerce and industry, not to mention his decades-long legal career, with a portrait at the ceremony.
Anthony J. Fornelli
After a career as a successful practicing attorney and a gubernatorial appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions, Anthony J. Fornelli started AJF Management. Today, this company owns and operates very successful currency exchanges and similar businesses.
A leader in not only the legal profession and the Italian-American community, Fornelli has been a contributor and pillar of the community at large.
Recognitions and accomplishments include president, Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans; president, Justinian Society of Lawyers; recipient, Justinian Award of Excellence; laureate, Illinois State Bar Association; founding member and past president, Italian American Political Coalition; founding member and past chairman, Casa Italia; founder and president, Italian American Veterans Museum; publisher and board member, Fra Noi; past president, UNICO National; and founder and past president, Chicago Amerital Chapter of UNICO.
Fornelli has dedicated his career to the improvement of the Italian-American condition, both here in Chicago and across the country, as a contributor, leader and role model.
Two signatures on the back of an envelope in 1989 sealed a deal that would become the Gold Coast’s legendary Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Since that day, business partners Steve Lombardo and Hugo Ralli have established an empire: Gibsons in Chicago, Rosemont and Oak Brook; two outposts of Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House; Luxbar; and Quartino Ristorante Pizzeria Wine Bar.
Gibsons’ downtown location is the highest-grossing restaurant for its size in the country, and the other Lombardo locations are recognized and appreciated as some of the finest and most successful not only in the Chicago area but in the United States. They are among the most widely known dining establishment for the meet, greet, eat, and let’s-do-some-business crowd in Chicago and the suburbs.
Born and raised on the Northwest Side of Chicago, Lombardo is the grandchild of Sicilian immigrants from Monte Maggiore. After college and a stint in the military, he got into the hospitality industry with his first successful venture, a singles bar. That experience was the forerunner of his hugely successful restaurant empire today.
Phil Stefani’s success story began in 1980 when he opened Stefani’s on Fullerton Avenue. With great popularity came expansion, and the opening of Lino’s and several Tuscany restaurants. Over the past 30-plus years, Phil Stefani Restaurants & Signature Events has become a household name epitomizing top-quality food and service in Chicago.
Stefani has served as the chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, among other significant community leadership roles, and he has dedicated significant time and money to children’s charities. In 1988, Stefani formed the Stefani Children’s Foundation, which donates to several worthy causes, including Children’s Memorial Hospital, After School Matters, Misericordia, Maryville Academy, Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Additionally, Phil Stefani Restaurants & Signature Events Group holds a yearly golf outing to raise money for many of these charities. Over the years, Stefani has raised more than $2,000,000 for various children’s charities.
Stefani was a participant in the founding of the Italian Cultural Center and has remained a significant part of the Italian community of Chicago.