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Da Luciano

luciano-300x200“My daughter stopped growing when she was 9 years old,” recalls Luciano Libreri. “We didn’t know why and she had to go for tests. It came up she had Celiac disease.”

Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that can damage the lining of the small intestine. Those with Celiac cannot consume gluten because it prevents the small intestine from absorbing nutrients from food. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats. Left untreated, Celiac disease can lead to serious long-term health problems.

It’s also a disease that has helped put Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering in River Grove on the map — because Libreri specializes in cooking gluten free.
Libreri has been in the restaurant business almost his entire life. He immigrated from Caccamo, Sicily, in 1969 with his father when he was 19 years old. They first went to Pennsylvania, but thought there would be more opportunities in Chicago. After six months, his mother joined them in the land of opportunity.

Libreri worked construction jobs in the day and at a restaurant at night. His love for the restaurant business blossomed into an ownership opportunity when he and a partner opened La Gandola Ristorante in 1983.

“I wanted to go into the restaurant business because I liked it,” says Libreri. “I figured I would have a little better future.”

The Lakeview restaurant was a success for 20 years, and it is where his young son Ignazio started working with Luciano in the restaurant business.

When it came time to sell La Gandola, Libreri had his heart set on a new restaurant. By now he and his wife, Lucia, had seven children and all were tested for Celiac disease. Four of the Libreri children are diagnosed with the disease. It’s hereditary.

Da Luciano is a mecca for those who need to eat gluten free.

“We had to learn how to cook gluten free,” adds Libreri. “We learned a lot about it when we opened Da Luciano.”

Those with Celiac disease can be extremely sensitive to any trace of gluten. For that reason, Da Luciano has two kitchens, with one that only cooks gluten free food.

“You try to help people who can’t have regular food,” describes Libreri. ” One time I went and took my children out to a steak house. The waitress said they can serve gluten free but they brought the steak with the breaded mushroom on it. They say they know what it means, but really they don’t know what it means.” The flour for the breading has gluten.

Any night, you will find Da Luciano’s bustling with business. They serve about 30 percent gluten free meals from two different menus. Libreri’s son, Ignazio, is Luciano’s partner in the restaurant.

“You really try and help people,” Libreri speaks from the heart. “Last night I had a person here and she brings me a note of the 30 things she is allergic to. There was no way I could feed this person with regular food, so I made her a special sauce from scratch. She was so happy.”

Da Luciano’s is located at 8343 Grand Ave. in River Grove. For details, call 708-453-1000 or visit www.dalucianos.com.

About Lissa Druss Christman

Nine-time Emmy award winner Lissa Druss Christman is a veteran communications strategist specializing in public affairs, crisis communications and public relations. She also brings more than two decades of experience as a news and sports television producer to bear on behalf of her clients. She is the chairman of the board of directors of The Jarrett Payton Foundation, a member of the National Italian American Foundation and a volunteer with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii. Lissa spent more than a decade with Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears.