By Eric Thomas
Fifty-five years ago, an immigrant from Italy came to the United States. While here, Leo Vitale helped his brothers and sister establish restaurants in Beardstown, Alido, Bethalto, and Carlinville. He returned to Sicily to take care of his family but when he came back 10 years later, Jacksonville caught his eye. He became a United States citizen, followed by his family. With his love for great Italian cooking, they took their own “slice of the pie” and established roots right here in Jacksonville. Forty years ago, Leo’s Pizza was born!
Beginnings at 230 South Main were humble. A small oven, six tables and a can soda machine. Business was good and kept growing. Leo and his wife Santina worked night and day to establish their roots here in this central Illinois community. For about 20 years the Vitales took this business and kept building on their location; expanding into buildings on either side. “In the beginning it was hard getting established but, as more and more people began to know my dad, the support grew” stated Antonia Alfano, daughter of Leo and Santina.
Antonia and her husband Sam Alfano along with her brother and sister-in-law, Sal and Suzie Vitale became the second-generation owners of Leo’s Pizza 20 years ago. Currently, a third generation has become involved in the day to day operations; Pietro and Filippa Alfano. Over the years, the restaurant has physically expanded and they have also worked on expanding their menu selections beyond their mouth-watering pizza to offer other Italian cuisine.
One thing is evident. Family and friends are important to the Alfano’s and that has carried over in the business and outside the business in their community involvement. Not only has their involvement in sports and school activities through their children kept this community minded family active but, about fifteen years ago they started doing a very cool community-oriented activity called “Pack the House”. The idea is simple. An organization, church, or school encourages attendance during one of these “Pack the House” events and part of the proceeds goes back to support them.
In addition to providing a creative fundraising opportunity through “Pack the House”, they also try to donate and help all local schools, organizations, individuals, and sporting teams. “We aren’t a big chain of stores and we can’t always give big”, said Alfano “But, we try to do for everyone or at least take turns during the year”. They have been involved with Salvation Army, the homeless shelter, PAWS, Jacksonville 4-H camp, and many incentive programs involving pizza at many local schools to name a few philanthropic endeavors.
Their involvement in the community comes easy for their family. “I don’t keep tabs on the number of organizations or people we help. The community has been good to us over the years; we want to do good for them”, concluded Antonia. An overall theme for them is Love My Jacksonville.
To celebrate 40 years in business Leo’s Pizza is providing 40 percent off all pizza (only) orders on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Leo’s Pizza is open Sunday 2:00 – 10:30 p.m.; 4:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. on Monday; 2:00 – 10:30 p.m. – Tuesday – Thursday; and 2:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. You can dine in, carry out or ask for delivery. Their phone number is 243-3413.