IRVING PARK — Sabatino’s, one of the Northwest Side’s most beloved restaurants, is closing at the end of the year
Sabatino’s is a fine-dining Italian restaurant at 4441 W. Irving Park Road that features steaks, fish, pasta and other Northern Italian specialites served in a formal atmosphere of white tablecloths, with a violin player and dessert carts that are wheeled to the table after the main course.
For the past 41 years, the restaurant has been owned and run by brothers Angelo and Enzo Pagni. Citing age and a desire to retire, the brothers recently sold the restaurant, 68-year-old Angelo Pagni said.
Although both brothers have children and grandchildren, Pagni said no one in their family was interested in keeping the restaurant going.
“I often get home at 3 a.m. It’s hard, that’s part of the reason. You get to a certain age and you know it’s time,” Pagni said.
He added that they sold the restaurant through a broker and do not know the new owner’s intent.
“It won’t be a restaurant like this. My gut says it may be some sort of mixed-use business but I’m not sure.”
This week, the brothers called a staff meeting and told them the restaurant was sold and would close after December 23. Angelo Pagni said they felt it was important to give their 50-person staff plenty of notice.
“I didn’t want them to find out from anyone aside from us and we wanted to give them enough notice to find new jobs. We have some staff members that have been here more than 30 years,” Pagni said.
On Thursday night, word was just beginning to seep out to the public and the restaurant, crowded as usual, was experiencing a deluge of calls for reservations. Angelo’s son, Angelo Jr., who owns a pizza restaurant in Rosemont, stopped in to say hello but instead was immediately put to work by his father, answering phones.
“It’s been crazy. One guy called in tonight and booked 20 reservations between now and when we close in December,” Angelo Jr. said.
While the public may be surprised by the news, waitress Suzanne Lukes, who has worked at Sabatino’s for 15 years, said she wasn’t surprised.
“It’s bittersweet. They had a great run and did a fabulous job. They have the best employees and are great guys to work for,” Lukes said.
Frank Horvath, 80, who has played violin in the restaurant for 32 years, wasn’t sure what his plan is after the restaurant closes.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, I really don’t. It’s a wonderful place.”
Alex Udvary, who has played accordion at the restaurant for the last 3 years, often accompanying Horvath, said, “Whatever the new owner does it won’t be a place like this. No one has that old-world class.”
Chris Phenis, a 24-year-old busser and one of the few employees who hasn’t been at Sabatino’s for many years, (he started in May of 2017), said although he hadn’t worked at the restaurant a long time, he had been coming to the restaurant since he was 8-years-old and described it as feeling like family.
“Angelo and Enzo are great family guys and I’m glad I was able to work here. I’m also glad they gave us notice,” Phenis said.
Outside in the valet booth, valet parker Willy Salgado, a 5-year employee, said, “There are no other guys like Angelo and Enzo. I’ll miss it.”
Departing the restaurant with leftovers because he couldn’t finish his hefty portion, 34-year-old Lakeview resident Drew Jansky said he had come to Sabatino’s for years and was sad to hear of it’s upcoming closing.
“It’s a damn shame. It’s classic Chicago,” Jansky said.
Udvary, who asked a reporter if he knew of any restaurants looking for an accordion player, seemed to sum up the feelings of many.
“It feels like someone died who had cancer. You know eventually they will die, but it still shocks and hurts when it happens.”
The Italian restaurant’s Facebook page shared the news at 9 p.m. on Thursday.
“Sabatino’s Restaurant in Chicago is planned to close by the end of this year 2018, tentatively late in December. Please keep an eye on our website and social media pages for more details in the coming weeks. Thank you,” the post said.
Back in 2016 the restaurant’s owners, Angelo and Enzo Pagni, addressed rumors that the restaurant was closing after they stopped serving lunch.
“We closed for lunch, and that started the rumors,” Pagni told the Chicago Tribune at the time. “We’re not planning to go anywhere. We’re open at 4 p.m. every day, seven days a week.”
The restaurant been featured on WTTW’s “Check Please,” WGN’s “Chicago’s Best” and the Chicago Reader, among other places.
After the restaurant announced their pending closure, Block Club asked readers to share their memories of dining at Sabatino’s.
“Our family always went to Sabatino’s for family celebrations and for New Year’s Eve,” Adrienne Vaccarezza Isla said. “Sabatino’s was my father’s favorite restaurant and they opened their restaurant so we could celebrate his life after his funeral. Angelo, Enzo and their entire staff are awesome!”
Other readers praised the service they received from the staff.
“I had my bridal shower there and it was amazing!! They made my day so special and all the servers and owners were wonderful,” said Edith Belloso. “We have been going to the restaurant since I could remember. So many amazing memories.”
Many readers said they were sad to hear the restaurant would be closing.
“My family used to come down from the North Shore on special occasions to have dinner here and 22 years ago I moved just down the street,” Jamie Bilsky said. “Sorry to see it close. Great food and great memories”
Another reader shared his memory of taking his parents to Sabatino’s for the first time.
“I grew up in Old Irving Park and in [high school] we moved to Jefferson Park. In 1990 my wife and I moved our family to Utah but I would fly back to Chicago on occasion for business and to visit my parents,” Michael C. Reid said. “They had never dined at Sabatino’s so I took them out to dinner there during one visit and I still remember how much my mom enjoyed her dinner and dessert. It’s one of my favorite memories now that she has passed on. It was her birthday and boy did they make her feel special. And the food was incredible.”
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