On the Path to Local: Lonzerotti’s in Jacksonville

A year and a half ago Sue, Frank, and their son opened Lonzerotti’s in Jacksonville. It wasn’t the first opening. The restaurant has been a long-time staple for the Jacksonville Community, serving classic Italian cuisine with their very popular salad and breadsticks. So when the restaurant closed its doors in January of 2016, it was a loss for the community. But John, who had worked on and off at the restaurant since the age of 16, saw an opportunity.

John, his parents, and John’s good friend and chef, Richie, devised a plan to modernize the restaurant and re-open. At the heart of their plan was a commitment to serving and supporting their community, by providing jobs and using only the best and freshest ingredients. Sue, a long-time vegetarian, understood the power of food to nourish bodies and souls. As much as possible, everything would be made from scratch. They would grow their own herbs and some vegetables in a small garden in the back of the restaurant, compost their food scraps, and look for ways to support area businesses in their small farming community.

So when Lonzerotti’s learned about Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Local Flavors Week program, they jumped at the opportunity. The program was set up to help restaurants in rural communities explore local sourcing by adding a dish featuring entirely local ingredients to their menu for one week. The restaurant had dabbled in buying ingredients locally in their first year of operation, but had never made a dish of entirely local ingredients.

Left to Right: Chef Richie, Sue, and John pose at the entrance of Lonzerotti’s Italia Restaurant in Jacksonville, Illinois, which they bought and re-opened in 2017 with a fresh commitment to community and sustainability.

Like most restaurants that want to source locally, they were running up against challenges: working seasonal ingredients into a fixed menu, finding farmers that can meet the scale and quantity they needed, and figuring out how to use whole animals. They saw the Local Flavors Week program as a way to experiment more with local food and challenge their creativity.

Chef Richie preps for the dinner rush at Lonzerotti’s Italia Restaurant in Jacksonville. Lonzerotti’s was one of 21 restaurants participating in Local Flavors events this year, which helped build connections between chefs and farmers and raise the profile of farm-to-table restaurants.

Using the Alliance’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory and the Jacksonville Farmers Market at Lincoln Square as a starting point, Sue found local farmers and ingredients for their September Local Flavors Week: potatoes, green onions, eggs, garlic. The star ingredient was beefalo—a unique breed of beef and buffalo raised by Gross Farms in their own town of Jacksonville.  Overall they supported six local farms! Then Chef Richie worked his magic to create a dish the whole community would fall in love with: pan seared beefalo pierogis. They even paired it with a local wine from a neighboring vineyard.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance drew up marketing materials, provided support, and helped land a story about the upcoming Local Flavors Week in the local newspaper. The result? People loved it. “It was our busiest week of the summer” noted John, “We sold over 1,000 pierogis and the support from the community was amazing.”

“My fingers were so tired from rolling pierogis that week,” adds Chef Richie. “People still ask when we’re going to bring the pierogis back onto the menu,” he laughs, “but I’m not quite ready.”

Sourcing locally is still a priority though. Four months after their Local Flavors Week the restaurant continues to purchase beefalo, and has added locally-produced pork to their menu. They are working to build long-term relationships with local farmers for produce and eggs as well.  “It just makes sense to be local and sustainable and get the community involved,” says Richie, “and the Local Flavors Week really helped to solidify that commitment.”

If you haven’t made it over to Lonzerotti’s yet, make sure you add this little gem to your road trip destinations. Check out their menu here. We recommend the beefalo meatballs to start you off!

Learn more about the Alliance’s work in our 2017 Annual Report.