Two people have died who fed diners at Marquette Park eateries for decades.
Five-foot-five inch Joe Pierri, co-founder of Little Joe’s Pizzeria, died at 90 of leukemia at his Lockport home on March 23. His restaurant, praised in reader polls for its lasagna, pizza and chicken Vesuvio, operated at 63rd and Richmond from 1958 to 1990. |
And on the other side of Marquette Park, Teddy Pawlikowski, who served up hot dogs at Fat Johnnie’s, died March 1 at 42. It’s believed he had a heart attack, said his father John, co-founder and namesake of Fat Johnnie’s, 7242 S. Western. South Siders, students from St. Rita of Cascia High School and foodies including Anthony Bourdain have eaten at their hot dog stand, established in 1972. It’s known for belt-busters like the Mighty Dog, a bun stuffed with a red hot, a tamale, chili and cheese, and the Mother-in-Law (tamale and chili on a bun) and Father-in-Law (tamale, chili, cheese).
John Pawlikowski plans to keep the restaurant going. But he always thought Teddy would take over the business.
“I was supposed to die. He wasn’t,” his father said. “He was a great kid. He was my son.”
Joe Pierri, who came to America as a stowaway and only had five years of formal education, helped build customer loyalty at Little Joe’s with high-quality ingredients, including homemade sausage and cheese from the Falbo company. Patrons dined in the restaurant or a banquet room that hosted many First Communion parties, confirmations, anniversaries and birthdays. On Halloween, neighborhood kids crowded in to get a free slice of pizza.
Though the Marquette Park restaurant has closed, Little Joe’s operate in Frankfort, Tinley Park and New Lenox, said owner Susan Albergo-Vazquez, daughter of Mr. Pierri’s cousin Pat Albergo, his co-founder at the original 63rd Street location.
Young Joe grew up in the World War II era in the town of Bitritto in Italy’s Puglia region. “One of the things he talked about was how much kinder the American Army was than the Germans,” said his son, also named Joseph.
Mr. Pierri journeyed to America on the MS Vulcania. A stowaway, he spent 14 days in a dark, cramped compartment on the ocean liner. “His uncle paid a sailor to hide him on the boat,” his son said. To blend in, “When they landed, he changed into dockworkers’ clothes.”
He co-founded a small pizzeria at 79th and Jeffery. Business boomed. He used to tell people his income was greater than the president of Italy, his son said.
When concerns arose about his immigration status, a lawyer advised Mr. Pierri to visit Cuba.
“He got stuck there five years,” his son said. He honed his culinary skills in the Italian Embassy there, where, in the mid-1950s, he cooked for a visiting then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
When Mr. Pierri returned to Chicago, he married. The union ended in divorce and he later wed Joan Cerceo, one of the first waitresses at Little Joe’s in Marquette Park. “Their first date was in a car with Little Joe’s pasted on the side,” their son said. She died in 1999.
He had an easy way with staffers and customers. Though he closed the Marquette Park location nearly 30 years ago, many old employees came to his wake. “I’m a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Pittsburgh,” his son said. “One of the things that influenced me was seeing my dad deal with intoxicated customers in such an elegant way.”
At Fat Johnnie’s, Teddy started out “pouring pops” at age 9, his father said. He went to St. Albert the Great grade school and St. Laurence High School in Burbank.
“He liked everything” on the menu, his father said. And he always put ketchup on his hot dogs.
After attending Northern Illinois University, he came to work at Fat Johnnie’s. “He always knew he was supposed to take this over,” his father said.
Teddy was popular for catering parties with a pushcart. And he was tickled when members of bachelor parties and wedding parties stopped in at Fat Johnnie’s — dressed in tuxedos and gowns — to chow down on the hot dogs they grew up on.
He was a fan of the White Sox, Frank Thomas, Johnny Cash, cold Miller Lites and water parks in the Wisconsin Dells. “He always loved the water,” his father said. “He could swim like a fish.”
One of Teddy’s old Facebook posts seemed to sum up his philosophy.
“Sox will come back. Fat Johnnie’s is life.”
Mr. Pawlikowski is also survived by his mother Virginia, sisters Amy Pawlikowski and Laurie Carter and brother Jim Shaughnessy.
Mr. Pierri is also survived by his daughters Jina Pierri-Tietje and Lara Luetkehans, nine grandchildren and his companion Laura Anderson.
Services for both men have been held.