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Home Run Inn Pizza’s Joe Perrino dies—saw city as ‘pizza capital of the world’

Joe Perrino pictured in a Home Run Inn promotional video. | Provided

Home Run Inn Pizza CEO Joe Perrino, who helped turn his family’s legendary Little Village pizzeria into a national frozen pizza empire, died unexpectedly on Thursday at age 64, according to the company.

“We are deeply saddened to announce the unexpected passing of our leader and CEO, Joe Perrino,” the company said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Joe’s legacy will be remembered not only for the beautiful business he built but for the foundation that lies beneath it. Joe was both a leader and the family patriarch, who over the years, inspired and touched numerous lives. He will be greatly missed.”

Mr. Perrino’s family declined to release details about the circumstances of his death, a company spokeswoman said.

Mr. Perrino took over the family business in 1990 after the death of his father Nick, who was the son-in-law of Mary and Vincent Grittani.

Joe Perrino (left) with his father Nick Perrino in 1979.
Joe Perrino (left) pictured with father Nick Perrino in 1979. | Provided
Provided photo

The Grittanis opened what would become their flagship location in 1923 as a tavern at 31st and Kildare, taking on the Home Run Inn title, legend has it, after a baseball smashed through their window from a neighborhood ballgame. Mary and Nick crafted their signature thin-crust pizza recipe and the family started serving up pies in 1947, following the recipe they use today.

By 2017, Joe Perrino had helped turn Home Run Inn into an $80 million-per-year business, with nine Chicago-area restaurants and frozen pizzas sold in 35 states.

In a 1995 Chicago Sun-Times profile, Mr. Perrino recalled his father’s misgivings about expanding the business. They introduced frozen pizza as a side project in 1955, eventually moving production from a cramped area behind their Southwest Side location to the current headquarters in Woodridge.

“He didn’t stop me, but he didn’t like it,” Perrino said. Great Depression experiences made his father skittish about over extending himself, he said.

While dishing out the family pizza to the suburbs and beyond, Mr. Perrino maintained that “Chicago is the pizza capital of the world.” He told the Sun-Times shortly after taking over the business that he insisted on pork from Iowa, cheese from Wisconsin and water for his pizza’s crust from Chicago — not the suburbs.

Dozens of photos of notable folks stopping by for a slice adorn the walls of the restaurant near Archer and Moody. Mr. Perrino rubbed shoulders with Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen there in 2011 when Home Run Inn teamed up on a marketing partnership with producers of the 2011 movie “The Way.”

From left: producer David Alexanian, Martin Sheen, Joe Perrino and Emilio Estevez at a Home Run Inn restaurant in 2011. | Sun-Times file photo
From left: producer David Alexanian, Martin Sheen, Joe Perrino and Emilio Estevez at a Home Run Inn restaurant in 2011. | Sun-Times file photo

“They were very engaging,” Mr. Perrino said then. “I asked them a lot of questions about father-and-son business because I worked with my father.”

Mr. Perrino’s son Nick joined the family business, as did his daughters Gina Bolger and Renee Perrino-Storie.

Joe Perrino recounted one of his father’s guiding mantras in another Sun-Times story highlighting his donations from Taste of Chicago proceeds to the United Cerebral Palsy telethon.

“If you give, it will come back to you,” he said.

Funeral arrangements were pending.