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Bertolli’s River Pizza

bertolliThere is an old saying in Italian culture: “Families are like a fortress.” Tucked away in west suburban River Forest are two small businesses started by an Italian immigrant who wanted to create a fortress for his family and a business for his five children.

Frank Bertolli is the proud owner of Bertolli’s River Pizza and Frank’s Deli, located at 7973 and 7971 Lake Street respectively. All five of his children — Carlo, Tony, John, Nora and Marilda — have had a hand in Bertolli’s success.

Bertolli was born in 1949 in Mola di Bari. He came to the United States in 1963 and literally grew up in the pizza business. Living on the Southeast Side of Chicago, Bertolli worked for his uncle’s pizza business and then his godfather’s pizza business.

Bertolli joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and, once out, he resumed his life in the pizza industry, working for his father’s restaurant on the South Side. Moving to the North Side, Bertolli left the business momentarily, working in construction, but he missed the pizza business and went back into food service, managing a restaurant.

Fast forward to 1981. “I was living in Forest Park and found out one day River Pizza on Lake Street was for sale,” says Bertolli. “I found a way to purchase the business and get back into the pizza business. I wanted to keep the name River Pizza so I just added my last name to the business.”

Bertolli and his children worked to make the restaurant a success. “I make everything I serve myself,” adds Bertolli. “The cannolis, the lasagna, everything I serve is made by hand.”

Five years after taking over the pizza business, Bertolli bought the building that included a White Hen pantry adjacent to Bertolli’s River Pizza. Ten years later, Bertolli started to get the idea for a deli.

“It’s always something I wanted to do,” reflects Bertolli. “I started to think because I have five kids and I wanted to do something for them.”

Bertolli closed the doors to the White Hen in 2009 and opened Frank’s Deli in April 2010. Frank’s is a modern American convenience store that captures the spirit of Bertolli’s homeland. From imported olive oil to pasta, you can find all kinds of touches of Italy, including handmade creations on the deli menu like a traditional pepper-and-egg sandwich. And, if you don’t want to go to the grocery store, you can pick up convenience items such as a quart of milk.

One has to wonder when Bertolli sleeps. He does all the shopping for both the pizza place and the deli, and works at both places morning, noon and night. Bertolli is very happy with three of his five children currently working at both places.

“I take pride in serving people,” Bertolli notes. “I make everything to please everyone.”

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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.