An Italian immigrant who taught a teen busboy the ins and outs of the pizza business shaped a worthy successor to carry his company into the future.
A few years after arriving in the States from Italy, Pat Porretta, having already worked in a local pizzeria, was ready to stake his own claim on the Windy City pizza scene. In 1964, he and his wife, Anna, fashioned their own recipes to open Porretta’s Pizza, a small spot with counter service in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. And, though Pat never opened a second location, he soon expanded, building a thriving restaurant with a full bar and banquet hall.
Little did he know that a teen busboy would become a key player in the business’ future. “I was 13 when I started and became a pizza maker at 15; Mr. Porretta was the cook and taught me the whole trade,” recounts John Panvino, current owner of Porretta’s Pizza and Trattoria Porretta with wife Gabriela. “Eventually, I was manager, then we became partners, and five years ago I bought the business.”
John has been with Porretta’s nearly 40 years, and Pat, now 89, still operates a banquet hall in the original location, across the street from the pizzeria and trattoria, which are housed in one building with two kitchens tackling dine-in, carryout and catering. With three crusts on offer—thin-crust, pan and stuffed—plus frequent specials on everything from seafood and meats to pizza and pasta, the menu remains fresh thanks to John’s constant kitchen tinkering and hands-on approach. “I think not opening other locations has been important, because I’m always there,” John says. “I can greet people and buy them a drink, make sure the food quality’s right. The customers love that.”
Almost every week, John turns the pizzeria over to a local fundraising effort, giving schools, churches and youth programs 15% of total sales for the night. Those efforts also help acquire new customers—along with traditional tactics such as direct-mail menus and ads on grocery store receipts—in a highly competitive market. Recently, John even hired a marketing expert to revamp his website, create and post social media content, integrate online ordering, and run targeted ads online. “You can’t do everything yourself these days, and you have to keep up with what’s new,” John says. “We’ve gotten a great response over the last few months. But the best advertising is still word-of-mouth. People come from all over the city to have our pizza, and my proudest moments are when someone tells me how good the food is.”
John, as you know, my friends and I love your food, as well as the service and the atmosphere. Your presence in the restaurant, and your friendliness, makes everyone feel special. You are appreciated!
Hi John, you know i moved a way but your food is still in my mind(your zuppa di pesce is a master piece of culinary art along the baked clams with the rest of your menu)
Wish you continued success
I’ll see you next time i’m in town.
My family and i have been coming to Poretta’s for the past 50 years!! The food is always the best!
My Dad loved the Veal Parmasen!
A true hidden gem on the north side of the city. Keep up the great work!!
We met at the original Poretta’s during the big snow storm in 1967. It was the only place open and my girlfriends and I were in there when a group of boys came in. We left and they followed us down the street. Happy to say we have now been married 46 years and try as often as possible to come to your restaurant. Your food and service is always fantastic.
Wishing you continued success.
Bud and Helen Stein
Just recently visited Chicago for the holiday season. Every time I visit, I make it a point to go to the restaurant. The staff is professional and polite, and the food is amazing. I would recommend to anyone who is in the area and has never been there.
I’m so proud of My uncle Pat and all of my extended family in Chicago. c/o Cousin Joey Porretta Toronto Canada