Rastrelli’s Restaurant was started by Pete and Ida Rastrelli, my father and mother. Dad, an Italian immigrant from the small town of Fornaci De Barga in the Tuscany region of Italy, came across the ocean to settle in the land of opportunity. Mom, the child of Italian immigrants who were from the same region as Dad, was born in Chicago.
Life was not easy for either of my parents. Knowing very little English, Dad was blessed that his trade was working with his hands. With the help of his sister and two brothers, Dad found his way to Chicago and put his talent to use as a candymaker. At an early age, Mom was orphaned and shortly afterwards adopted by her aunt Emma from Sterling, Illinois.
While looking for a job, Dad found an opening in a small town west of Chicago. The opening was for a candymaker in Clinton, Iowa at the Marcucci Candy Shop. Mom was a soft, loving person who had a desire to help people. With these characteristics, she entered nurses training at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. One day, these two met in the candy shop and fell in love, ah amori! In 1929 they married and started a family.
In 1939, this strong-willed, self-taught couple opened Rastrelli’s Revere Candy Shop in the Revere Hotel at 4th Avenue South and 2nd Street. The Revere had a long soda fountain with a marble and stainless steel back bar, fifty mahogany booths, a popcorn machine, glass cigar cases, and soda jerks in white shirts and bow ties. The Revere was a very popular place to meet and hang out. Many couples shared their first date here over a Revere sundae. The menu featured burgers, sandwiches and also Dad’s handmade ice cream and candies. Does anyone remember the Olive Nut Sandwich?
In 1950, the Revere Hotel was sold. All of the tenants were being forced to move and so were Mom and Dad. They moved to the north end of town on Main Avenue in the Lyons area. The store was smaller containing only seven booths, two tables, and a soda fountain. This reduction was not going to hold back any of the dreams that my parents had though. The menu increased, spaghetti, burgers, chicken, chopped steaks, and a new creation were offered now. This new creation was known as Pizza.
With the candy business struggling because of big names like Russel Stover’s and Brach’s, Dad needed something new, something to give the restaurant a boost. At this time, my brother Bob came home from the Navy. With him, he brought the idea of pizza because it was such a big hit. Carol, my sister, brought home the same idea from Chicago. This pizza idea was the spark that Dad needed to get the business rolling again.
Knowing that he had to do something, Dad got a hold of Angelo-Pasquenelli, the man that found him the candymaker job. The two of them went into Chicago to look at the pizzerias and get an idea of what had to be done. With this valuable information Dad came back to Clinton and worked on his new pizza idea until he got it perfect. He had done it! The Revere sign came down and a new Rastrelli’s Pizza Shop sign went up. With the help of his children, Dad had found what was going to make the business continue, and also to be stronger than ever!
In 1964, more changes took place. The Madden building, which you sit in today, was bought by Dad and Mom. This purchase allowed enlargement of the dining area, the kitchen, and the storage area of the restaurant. The menu also increased. Steaks, seafood, and Italian dishes were also served now. It was in this year that our famous bread was created to go along with the famous cabbage salad of 1957. The sauces for the pastas were made in a large copper kettle and we were still grinding our own beef and sausage. Dad and Mom always wanted to make sure that the quality was the best, and making everything from scratch was a sure way of quality control.
In 1966, our family faced the greatest challenge. Dad died of a massive heart attack while working in the restaurant. We now had to carry on with what he had given us. Mom, Jim, Tom and I continued to look forward. In 1968 we remodeled Rastrelli’s again. This time we added one more dining room with booths, table, and chairs, and once again enlarged our menu.
The tradition continues today. With the restoration of the building completed, we now reflect the history and tradition of the building and the restaurant. Many changes will come in the future, but there will always be a constant. Dad and Mom’s way of offering good food and good service at reasonable prices.