Thursday, November 5, 2020

The history of the original Il Forno Pizzeria & Restaurant in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.

In 1953 Bruno Pupolo had the foresight to offer Chicago a relatively new concept. A family Italian restaurant where pizza was made with daily homemade dough and Italian sausage, and fresh vegetables that were shopped for every morning. But the pièce de résistance was Bruno's pizza sauce recipe! A place where the jukebox, a song for a dime or three songs for a quarter, always seemed to be playing.

Pupolo decided to name the restaurant "Il Forno," meaning "The Oven" in Italian.
The pizza was thin, delicious, and cut into squares.
Later that year Bruno's son in law, Lou Bonelli, along with his mother in law, Philomena Tancredi, purchased Il Forno restaurant at 2842 West Devon Avenue in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood in the West Ridge community.
Chicago Tribune Help Wanted Ad, October 18, 1953.
From my memory, the interior was unique with perhaps 10 or 12 glass light bars running up one wall from the floor, across the ceiling, and down the opposite wall to the floor, with lighting cover inserts that looked like flames, making the dining room look like you were sitting in a pizza oven with the heating elements turned on.
An example of lighting fixtures used appearing as oven heating elements.
The tables were covered with traditional red & white checkered oilcloth. I personally remember as a 5 or 6-year-old, Lou sitting at our table to teach me how to use a fork and spoon to twirl my spaghetti.
The rest is pretty much Chicago pizza folklore. According to Lou, "the pizza place was such a new concept that people would come out of curiosity. That curiosity stuck like perfectly cooked pasta on a wall." 

Several other Il Forno pizza restaurants opened in the following years. Skokie would soon follow on Church Street in 1956. Next, a Highland Park restaurant was opened in 1961 on Roger Williams Avenue, followed by Linden Avenue in Wilmette in 1965. The Skokie store then moved to Morton Grove on Dempster Street in 1970. The Highland Park restaurant, the current location, run by the 3rd generation, opened on Old Elm Road in 1972. 

Mike Rudolph, who managed the Highland Park store from 1974, purchased the store from Lou in 1986. Rudolph is still serving the same homemade dough, family sausage recipe, and the same Bruno Pupolo pizza sauce that was created in 1953.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. My brother and I were always well behaved when we ate out, which was a rare treat as a kid. And when we had pizza, Il Forno Pizza especially, we were well behaved before, during and even after the meal.

  2. My name is Karen "Bonelli" Anderson. My dad was Lou Bonelli. Thank you for the nice article. I believe this was published earlier as well. For the record... My grandmother's name was Philomena not Phyllis and while you remember the flames correctly that was actually a remodel from the original design. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further with myself and my sister.

    1. My memory of the interior was when I was 5 or 6 years old. It would have been in 1965 or '66. Phyllis was the name stated on the current Il Forno website.

    2. It was such a great place, perfect for an after-the-racetrack wind down. 3 songs for a quarter on the tabletop juke box and Joyce, the bubbling waitress. From around 1973 until 1975, I worked 3 days a week speeding up and down the alleys delivering pizzas...including Saturdays from 11 AM (for our regular doctor's office lunch) until about 2 AM...a 15-hour day.

  3. Thank you for sharing one of your childhood memories. My first childhood memory of going out for pizza was to Home Run Inn on 31st St pass Pulaski in Chicago. I still remember the velvet drawings of dogs in different social settings such as playing cards, smoking cigars, and sitting at bars. Here's to childhood!


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