History of Monastero’s since 1962
The story of Monastero’s Ristorante starts in the town of Caccamo, located in the province of Palermo in Sicily.
Mamma Maria Anselmo Monastero came from a family known in town as the “Buon Gustai”–gourmets! They gained that reputation because Mamma Maria’s mother befriended the Princess who came to spend summers in her family Castle in Caccamo. The Princess shared the royal recipes with her. Cuisine was the center Sicilian family life. On the street Sicilians never greeted each other by “How are you?” but by “What did you eat today?”
Papa Sebastiano Monastero moved Mamma Maria and their daughter Gina to Philadelphia in 1930. September 21, 1930 their son Joseph was born and on August 5, 1932 their son Salvatore “Salvy” was born. The depression hit and Papa sent his family back to Caccamo in 1933. Papa stayed behind to close down his two shoe stores and returned to Caccamo in the spring of 1936. The dream of America was alive in the two sons who knew they were American citizens. Salvy returned to Kankakee, IL in 1951 and was followed by Joe in 1952. Gina arrived in 1953 and the siblings sent for Mamma & Papa Monastero in 1956. The family worked towards the dream of opening a restaurant.
November 26, 1962 Joe, Gina and Salvy Monastero opened their first restaurant, La Canopy, located just two doors west of the present restaurant. Salvy greeted the customers, purchased the produce at the South Water Market and cut the meat, Joe bartended, played the accordion for the guests, sang with Salvy and ran the business. Gina kept the family home in Rogers Park in order and made all of the manicotti, cannelloni, lasagna and cannoli at home and sent them to the restaurant with her brothers. This was the essence of a true Family Restaurant Sicilian Style–it all sounds very romantic but the days were filled with hard work!
The doors to the current Monastero’s Ristorante opened February 6, 1967. The Monastero Family’s menu of authentic homemade Sicilian cuisine in a setting that highlights Sicilian traditions and culture has made their restaurant a Chicago landmark. Their success has been based upon the finest of ingredients and a warm family atmosphere that allows their customers to feel at home while dining. Everything continues to be homemade, even the mayonnaise for the salad dressings!
The unusual decor of the restaurant features a Sicilian horse and cart hand carved and painted by Palermo’s finest artisans, shields painted by artist Milan Bulovic that depict the history of Sicily,
a painting of the Castle of Caccamo by Sicilian artist Nino Parlagreco, illuminated silk-screened profiles of famous Greek Sicilians, leather panels silk-screened with the emblems of the provinces of Sicily and mini-stages where characteristic Sicilian puppets are displayed.
They added an open air Garden Room in the fall of 1967 and held their first Wine Festival in 1968 featuring a traditional harvest banquet, entertainment and girls actually crushing grapes in half wine barrels, all competing for the title of Wine Festival Queen. The Chicago weather finally won out and they enclosed the Garden Room with skylights in 1973.
The Bel Canto Opera Evenings Contest, founded in 1974 by the Monastero Family, features eight evenings of fine dining and opera singers where over $50,000 in prizes is awarded annually. The winners of the contest are now singing at the La Scala Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera House and across the United States and Europe.
They held their first banquets on the lower level of the restaurant in the Cantina Room that was decorated with wine barrels and mirrors, accommodating up to 60 guests. (today it is known as the Rose Room)They decided to serve lunch in the Garden Room opening the fall of 1976. They discovered that the Garden Room was a popular choice for weekend banquet luncheons as well.
The customers kept asking Joe, Gina and Salvy to build a larger banquet room. This dream came true in the fall of 1982 when they opened the Botticelli Room. The chandeliers, wall sconces, frames and mouldings were made in Tuscany in Cascina, a small town near Pisa. Joe went to the Uffizzi Art Gallery in Florence and obtained a negative of Botticelli’s glorious paintings, Primavera and The Birth of Venice and the Xerox company made life-size reproductions of them.
The Taste of Chicago approached the Monasteros in 1984 and they sold their Sicilian Arancine from 1984-1986. A challenging and wonderful time–cooling down cartloads of rice in a freezing banquet room and trying to beat the traffic to deliver the finished product to the booth. Wonderful memories to say the least–the whole family worked the booth!
The fall of 1991 work began on Gina’s Banquet Room that opened June of 1992. Once again the granite, the walnut doors, the Murano glass chandeliers dipped in 18 karat gold and the mouldings came from Tuscany. (from 1980 to 2003 the Monastero’s had a home in Castelfiorentino in Tuscany)
The true secret of success for the Monastero Family has been their tradition of enthusiastic family involvement that continues under the guidance of Joe and his wife Martha, their son Joe, Jr. and daughter Maria Giorgia Orszula and Salvy’s daughter Maria Elisabeth Monastero Bueno. Joe, Sr. and Martha run the business office and sing in the dining room, Joe, Jr. and Maria Giorgia oversee the kitchen in creating new recipes. Maria Giorgia manages all of the advertising and social media and Maria Elisabeth is Director of Catering for the four private dining rooms. Joe, Jr. is also Director of Strategic Initiatives at Kendall College.
Fine dining at Monastero’s Ristorante is a Chicago tradition that began in 1962. Monastero’s dining center features the main restaurant and four banquet rooms. Whether seeking an intimate dinner for two or a celebration for 300, Monastero’s offers the perfect ambiance and menu. Located at 3935 W. Devon Avenue, Monastero’s is only 20 minutes from the Chicago loop and 5 minutes east of the Edens Expressway. Create your own traditions at Monastero’s today!