You could also look at the long history Alta Villa has enjoyed serving Chicagoland’s Italian-American community and the many special events it has catered for the area’s unions. (It recently hosted the 100th anniversary of the Cement Mason’s Union Local No. 502, attended by Gov. Pat Quinn and more than 700 guests.)
But even if you consider all that, you’d miss the main and most cherished ingredient: Enzo Grisi. Celebrating his 50th year in the food industry, Grisi has led the kind of career that could only be cooked from scratch. For starters, this 81-year-old dining dynamo still puts in between 60 and 70 hours a week at work. That’s a schedule to shame a man a quarter of his age.
Yet if you ask him to reflect on what it all means, Grisi views his success through the eyes of his flesh-and-blood family, and his extended famiglia of customers. “The most important thing is the community,” he says. “When you’ve been in business for more than 50 years, you’ve got to do something right.”
That’s an understatement if ever there was one. Long-standing catering operations can get by on superlative food alone — and Alta Villa has that part of the business down cold. But Grisi inspires all around him through an incomparable mix of work ethic and generosity. He also credits his wife of 59 years, Giuseppina (“Pina”), with making his success possible.
It also makes sense, then, that Grisi has shaped the lives of those who work for him. General Manager Danny Ranieri, his godson, started working with Grisi at age 13. Ranieri is 38 now and says: “The things I learned from Enzo you can’t learn at any school, business wise and customer service wise. What makes his business go is the personal touch.”
Having other members of the clan around helps, too. By his side at Alta Villa are his son and daughter, Frank Grisi and Rosemary Nasti, and grandson Enzo Grisi III. They, along with Enzo’s daughter, Josephine Pucci, have given Enzo nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
It’s an incredible story for a man who emigrated from Naples in 1956 and started out as a crane operator. By 1964, he opened up his first restaurant at Roscoe and Western, across the street from the gates of Riverview amusement park.
In 1969, he opened an eponymous restaurant at Harlem and Foster, which he ran until 2002, when he took up the reins of Alta Villa. In addition to hosting special events of up to 1,000 people, the facilities are open to the public for Sunday brunch and daily lunch buffets.
So after 50 years, is it finally time to retire? Grisi wouldn’t entertain that notion for a second. “A lot of people know me, they remember me,” he says. “I’m nice to everybody. I ask people, ‘How’s everything?’ and I try to take care of everything.”
And for the foreseeable future, Enzo Grisi definitely will.
Alta Villa Banquets
430 N. Addison Road
Addison, Ill. 60101