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50 years and five generations later, Elgin-based Rosati’s’ Pizza is still piping hot

MarlTopliff president Elgin-based Rosati’s Pizza. | Melanie Kalmar for Sun-Times Media

Marla Topliff, president of Elgin-based Rosati’s Pizza. | Melanie Kalmar for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 27, 2014 11:56AM

ELGIN — It’s a story that epitomizes the American Dream.

A young Ferdinand Rosati comes to Chicago from Naples, Italy, in the 1920s, and opens a restaurant in an old, Italian neighborhood on Taylor Street.

The original Rosati’s Restaurant served Italian dishes from Ferdinand’s homeland and desserts from Lezza’s Bakery, located upstairs.

“The crème of the crop in Chicago ate there,” said Marla Topliff, president of Elgin-based Rosati’s Pizza. “Al Capone could be seen eating dinner there and, across the room was Eliot Ness.

“Ferdinand put flatbreads on the table, with garlic and olive oil, and people loved it. From that, he got the idea to serve pizza.”

Ferdinand’s recipe for pizza would make a comeback in 1964, when his 11 children, led by son Dick, opened Rosati’s Pizza on Busse and Algonquin roads in Mount Prospect.

“Rosati’s was one of the first pizza places to deliver,” she said. “Pizza wasn’t popular yet. People would say, ‘Can I have an apple pizza or an orange pizza?’ They thought it was pie.”

When business started to take off, many of the siblings left to raise families or pursue other careers, Topliff said. The exception was brothers Al, Dick, Fred, and Ron. They stayed on, and passed the family tradition to future generations.

From that Mount Prospect location, which is still open, sprung more than 200 Rosati’s Pizza stores in 13 states.

Come 2014, Rosati’s celebrates 50 years in business.

“We’re still deciding what the promotions will be,” said Topliff, who has been busy seeking suggestions on how to celebrate from customers, staff and store owners.

“Just like you would when planning your child’s birthday party,” Topliff said, “You ask them what they would like to do.”

Family customers

Rosati’s carry-out and delivery stores, catering services, and new concept pizza pubs aimed at families who want to eat a nice meal out at an affordable price, offer pasta dishes, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and desserts from old friend Lezza’s Bakery.

Rosati’s competes with Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s and Nancy’s Pizza, Topliff said, but not Pizza Hut, Dominoes and Little Caesars. “Those are economy pizzas,” Topliff said. “Our pies are from a family recipe that is over 100 years old, made personally by hand with ingredients of the highest quality. We wouldn’t give our customers anything we wouldn’t give our own families.

“‘From our family to yours,’ it was our tagline,” she said. “We still use it every once in a while and it’s still true.”

Ninety-five percent of Rosati’s Pizza stores are franchisee-owned, Topliff said, noting that many franchisees have been at it for more than 20 years. Among them, a former deliveryman who owns two franchises and one new concept pizza pub.

“They come into it, love it, and grow with us,” she said.

A franchisee should have business skills, though not necessarily restaurant skills, Topliff said. If they already have an idea of how to run the restaurant and make the pizza, she explained, they are not going to run the business and make the pizza the way you want them to do it.

The Rosati family began franchising its stores in the 1990s and stopped for a while, because operations were not efficient enough, Topliff said. They resumed franchising in 2003, having established an operations manual to ensure all franchisees are consistent with the brand.

“You have to be willing to be a hands-on owner and put in the time every day, and know how to run every aspect of the business, from cleaning the bathroom to making pizza, customer service, making deliveries,” Topliff said. “If you are not willing to do everything, you are not good owners, and you cannot make a living.”

At Rosati’s corporate office, 2250 Point Blvd., in Elgin, on any given day, five generations of Rosati family members are at work. Even though it’s difficult for the company’s founders to get around now — they range in age from 85 to 99 years old — the brothers still make appearances at Rosati’s stores and franchisee conferences.

On a prominent wall in the office is a black and white mural of them, a reminder that what began a half century ago as a family-owned business remains that way today.

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