"A family tree can wither if nobody tends its roots."


Chicago’s Italian Beef Sandwiches

by  Phyllis Zeck

Four words that can make you salivate: Chicago’s Italian Beef Sandwiches!  No other beef sandwich comes close to the ones made by our family.

You bite into your sandwich and taste the tender beef, the sweet green peppers, and you hear the juice drip down on your plate.  You wrap the yellow crackling paper tighter around the sandwich so nothing else escapes.  You can’t help it – a huge  smile spreads over your face.  You feel like you are in Heaven.  You finish your sandwich.  It’s gone.  It’s over.  How long until you can eat the next one?


The original Italian beef sandwich recipe spans three generations and was created in the 1940’s by Margie (John’s daughter) and Edith (Luke and Muriel’s mother).

Margie and her husband Al Vitullo owned an ice cream store under the El tracks on Hoyne Ave and added the sandwich to the menu.  Their most popular beef stand was located at Cicero Ave and Kammerlig St.

And as they say – the rest is history!

Frank Jr (Luke) began his restaurant in 1965 and now has restaurants in Tucson.  Luke is still working full time, he says he doesn’t know what he’d do with himself if he retired.  Information about Luke’s restaurants can be found at www.lukessandwiches.com.

Luke’s two sons Joel and Cary operate branches in the Phoenix area and this is the link to their website http://www.lukesofchicago.com/.  Luke’s son Matt owns a restaurant in Elkhorn WI.

Margie, Frank Jr (Luke), and Muriel

Luke’s sister Muriel and her husband Justin Fortuna opened their stand in 1976.  They have three restaurants, one on North Ave in Chicago, one in Harwood Heights, and one in Schiller Park.  Their website is www.jaysbeef.com .  The restaurants are named after Muriel and Justin’s son Jay who now helps run them.   You’ll find Muriel still putting in a full day’s work behind the counter.



Giuseppe Florian

by  Phyllis Zeck

Giuseppe was the second son born to Pietro and Elvira on Oct 15, 1889 in Pescasseroli Italy.  He appears to be the only brother who entered the service.

Joe’s military assignment was the Mexican Border Campaign.  “The Illinois National Guard was ordered into federal service by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 to assist the Regular Army in restoring peace along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Between the fall of 1910 and the summer of 1916, Mexico had been embroiled in a violent revolution, with opposing political and military forces struggling for control of the country. In 1913, United States President William Howard Taft sent a large military force into Texas and stationed them along the Rio Grande to protect Americans in the region. This show of American military force caused Mexican militants to redirect their violence from their own countrymen to Americans. In 1913, when Woodrow Wilson became President, he denounced the new revolutionary government in Mexico and refused to recognize it as the legitimate government. As a result of his position, violence toward Americans intensified and there were incidents of murder, robbery, kidnapping for ransom and property destruction.

In response to the violence, President Wilson sent 4,800 Regular Army troops under General John “Blackjack” Pershing to defend the border towns and their citizens. On February 24, 1913, fighting commenced along the border near Brownsville, Texas and on March 2, Mexicans attacked U.S. troops along the border near Douglas, Arizona. The struggle for control continued throughout 1914. Mexico elected a new government and president, Venustiano Carranza, in 1915.”

You can read the rest of the article about the Mexican Border Campaign at the following   website: http://www.il.ngb.army.mil/Museum/HistoricalEvents/MexicanB.aspx

1st Illinois Cavalry Band – Joe played the Saxaphon

Joe played the Saxophone with the 1st Illinois Cavalry  Band and is in the center of this photo.  Joeseph Jr has the original photo.  It is posted online at VintagePostcards.org with more details about the photo.

http://www.vintagepostcards.org/brownsville-illinois-cavalry-band-mexican-revolution-rppc-p-4293.html (more…)



An Important Family Tradition

by  Rob Winike

An important family tradition: every year the week before Christmas, our mom would haul us all downtown on the train and bus to The Loop. Here was a kind of Mecca for all school kids because it is the heart and soul of culture and shopping in Chicago. Year after year we would make multiple class field trips to the Lake Michigan beaches, Grant Park, the Chicago History museum, the Art Institute, the aquarium, planetarium and Navy Pier, the Field Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Science and Industry, the central public library, and every kind of symphony orchestra, lyric opera, theater, and ballet or music concert venue imaginable. This along with more than 100 high-end stores of every variety – all in one six block area bounded by the Chicago River. Field trips were fun and educational, but it was Holiday Fun Time when mom would take us downtown, because we’d get to see Santa at Marshall Field and Company Santa Land. Then we’d buy brand new shoes at the only Buster Brown shoe store in Chicago, on Wabash Street. To get there, we had to walk through the intersection of State and Madison, the most famous corner in Chicago. The garish, blinking colored and strobe lights of the theaters, dance clubs, and cocktail lounges were a great distraction for me and my brothers, Steve and Tom. Mama had to herd us along the way like goats. My baby sisters, Phyllis and Janice, mostly just fussed like always.




Christmas Time by Rob Winike

by  Phyllis Zeck

Christmas is always big at our house,because my parents suffered through Christmases with very little to spare during the Great Depression. Now they are effusive and generous to us kids, as no one in their generation, or even in their parents’ generation could have afforded to be. My grandfather tells us of many Christmases where he only received a stocking with a few candies and an orange, the only orange he would get to eat all year. One year, he says, his brothers were so wicked everyone in the family

Steve, Bob, and Tom Winike

got a lump of coal in their stocking. That was the second worst Christmas of his life. The worst we find out about later, when we’re older.

But Christmas in the Fifties, oh boy! Mama takes us on the “El” to Michigan Avenue, to see all the storefront windows brilliant with garish colors and sparkling shapes. Mechanical fairytale figures dance, skate, and twirl before our eyes, each window a different scene.

I am dreaming of Lionel trains after seeing the elaborate layout my cousin Bubba has. I ask my father if Santa will bring me a train set. He says, “You have to ask Santa that yourself.”  But I see the gleam in his eye; turns out he loves Lionels as much as I.




Elvira Ciolli Del Principe

by  Phyllis Zeck

Elvira Ciolli Del Principe

Elvira married Pietro around the age of 14 in approx 1888.  We know she had at least 15 children.  She came from a large family herself.  Brothers Amelio and Carmino (Charles) arrived aboard the Britannia on May 1, 1890.  Other siblings living in America were Henry, Gemma, Angelica, and Sparanza.  I believe the photo below is of Elvira and her sister Gemma Leone, although I couldn’t tell you which woman is Elvira! Gemma Leone lived across the street from Elvira and she is was Aunt Phyllis’ godmother.

Now we may have discovered our first link to family in Italy.  Through correspondence with a B&B in Pescasseroli, Salvatore writes

Elvira and sister (or friend)

“I’m not yet sure but your Grand Mother, Elvira Ciolli should be my great grand mother sister Ester Ciolli. They were about 15 brothers and sisters.  Ester Ciolli died when their children were very young. My Grand father Angelo was just 5, his sister Maria was 11. They have two more brother Paolo and Amelio which went to Usa.  My mother is Ester, as you can see her first name is after her Granny. To be sure I have to ask an old lady here in Pescasseroli and I’m waiting for my mother to arrange an encounter with her”.

We try to remain patient waiting for a response from Salvatore.  Life seems to move at a slower pace in Italy than in the USA!