This small-town Illinois pizzeria has hosted the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Hope, Stan Musial and Sonny & Cher.
In the small mining community of DuQuoin, Illinois, Alongi’s is a true survivor: Sicilian immigrant Guy Alongi started his business in 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, and his family has continued to weather difficult economic times into the present day. But, even through hardship, the business has seen remarkable success as an independent family restaurant. As of its 75th anniversary in 2008, Alongi’s had served more than 1 million pizzas and 8 million glasses of Budweiser over the years. Dozens of pie-loving celebrities have visited Alongi’s, including Bob Hope, Willie Nelson, Sonny & Cher, Connie Stevens and Red Skelton, along with famous sports figures such as Joe Garagiola, Stan Musial and Jack Buck. Alongi’s also has the distinction of serving up some firsts in southern Illinois: the first pizza operation, the first television in a business, and the first drive-up window.
The restaurant began as a sandwich shop, but by the early 1950s, Alongi’s had entered the pizza business. From the beginning, the pizzeria catered to families, according to John Alongi, who ran the restaurant with his brother Jerome “Mimi” for decades after their father, Guy, passed away. (Today, John’s two sons carry on the day-to-day operations). “We gave baseball cards to kids—more than 20,000 over the years—and built business that way,” Alongi told PMQ back in 2008. Still, his secret to longevity involved more than kid-friendly marketing; he credited the success of Alongi’s to three factors: service, food and attention to customers. “Business comes back to where it’s treated well,” he said.
That attention extends to employees, as well as the larger community. “If you don’t treat your employees like family, you’re in the wrong business,” John told us, pointing out that several staff members have served the restaurant for more than 25 years. On behalf of Alongi’s, John also sponsored several college scholarships; worked on local committees and the tourism board; and regularly visited Washington to speak for small business owners. “You can’t take everything; you have to give something back,” John said. “If you’re going to stay in business, you have to be involved. You have to be active in the community and take part.”
Most of all, John wanted the younger generation to appreciate the viability of the restaurant business as more than just a job. “Our industry needs a little pep talk about how the singular independent can survive. The restaurant business can provide a good career. This is a tough industry, but you shouldn’t go into a business just for money; you have to like to get up and go to work every day.” —Tracy Morin