2/01/2013 10:20:00 AM

85 Years of The Italian Village: Q&A with Owner Gina Capitanini

The oldest continually operating restaurant in Chicago is one often associated with the over-sized sign in The Loop or hoards of tourists. Behind the preconceptions, however; is a restaurant saturated with 85 years of history. We asked third-generation owner, Gina Capitanini, about what allowed The Italian Village to withstand the tests of time.

Zagat: Tell us about your family and the roots of The Italian Village.
Capitanini: I’ve been here all my life, third generation. My grandfather father started it in 1927. My father and my uncle are still here, we call them "the seniors," my dad is 80-years-old and still comes to work four to five days a week. And my uncle is 76 and still comes to work five days a week as well.

Zagat: What is it like working in a true family restaurant?
Capitanini: Everyone has an opinion. Sometimes it’s who can yell the loudest gets their point across. Everyone has their own niche. My brother is mostly financial, I am mostly on the floor and front of house, my father is mostly in the kitchen. That kind of keeps the peace, so to speak. I don’t go and tell him how something should be cooked, and he doesn’t tell me where someone should be seated or who should be hired.

Zagat: How are you able to keep work and family time separate?
Capitanini: We try and go out to dinner on a monthly basis as a family, and we don’t discuss business then, because most of the kids are there too and they don’t want to hear it.

Zagat: How has the restaurant changed over the past decades?
Capitanini: Most have the changes have been in terms of our environment. Downtown used to be a ghost town at night, more of the financial district, but now it’s more residential. The theaters have evolved so that has all changed our business delivery. Also there are a lot more hotels as well, so we do a lot more carryout and delivery business. We do room service at two hotels as well. A lot of people ask why don’t we expand to the suburbs or River North. We do have three different restaurants, three different kitchens all under one roof. I think we would be stretching ourselves thin if we opened another place, so we do what we can in one entity.

Zagat: What has not changed?
Capitanini: The quality and service that we are known for.

Zagat: What has made The Italian Village a Chicago institution?
Capitanini: It truly is our customers and their loyalty. Just as the business is three generations, we take three generation of customers. It’s become a Chicago tradition for many families, and that is what keeps things going here.

Zagat: What is one of you fondest memories growing up in The Italian Village?
Capitanini: I always say a lot of kids went to summer camp, but the Italian village was our summer camp. The girls always got the jobs in the office answering the phones, and the boys had to peel potatoes and sweep the locker room and clean the shrimp.

Zagat: Where do you see the restaurant going in the future?
Capitanini: I’m here to stay. I have a couple teenagers and one who has voiced an opinion about getting involved in the business, but of course that can change, and my other son wants be a neuroscientist or a restaurateur. So I am not sure which one will win out.

Zagat: What is your favorite dish served at The Italian Village?
Capitanini: I would say the Chicken Alfredo because it is named after my grandfather, the founder, and it is a dish that he invented. It consists of chicken, roasted potatoes, sausage and mushroom caps in a white wine-garlic sauce with some rosemary and sage. I guess I like it because it reminds me of him and everything he’s done.

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