The rumors that began swirling Thursday afternoon are true: Sabatino’s, the old-school essential Italian restaurant that opened 40 years ago on the Northwest Side, is closing for good just before Christmas. Co-owner Angelo Pagni said he sold the property to a developer who will likely demolish the restaurant. He informed employees on Wednesday of his decision.
This isn’t the first time that the public got wind of a potential shutter, but this time Pagni means it. Even if the purchaser somehow pulled out of the deal, it’s done. Pagni circled December 23 as Sabatino’s last day at 4441 W. Irving Park Road. Sabatino’s is a family-run restaurant, as Pagni operated it with help from his brother Enzo and others.
“It’s getting to the point where it’s getting harder every day to get up and have the same strength it takes to run a restaurant,” Pagni said on Thursday. “I know it’s time.”
Sabatino’s opened in 1978 serving Chicago Italian-American classics including chicken Vesuvio and shrimp DeJonghe. The decor reminds visitors of those Italian restaurants depicted in movies and television with big roomy booths in a retro setting. When news broke on Thursday afternoon via a post on the Old Irving Park Association Facebook page, loyal customers were up in arms knowing that the stalwart was about to go away: “It touches the heart to hear people talk like that,” Pagni said. Later, the restaurant confirmed the news on its own Facebook page.
The restaurant employs around 50 people, and while servers came and went, Pagni said some kitchen workers have stuck around for 39 years. He remembers training them. Pagni struggled on Thursday to find the words to describe what the restaurant meant to him and the city. He remembers famous baseball players like the Cubs’ Billy Williams and the White Sox’s Minnie Miñoso dining at the restaurant. The Bears’ Brian Urlacher was also a customer. Regardless of athletic ability, treating customers right was Pagni’s reason to wake up in the morning.
“I would hope customers would think we had great food for fair value,” he said. “We treat them like family and we do our best to take care of them.” Those customers have four months to visit Sabatino’s before it’s gone forever.