Homemade Italian food is a staple at this longtime favorite, and it’s one of many ways this restaurant continues to feel like home.
For almost 50 years, Lino’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant, 5611 E. State St., has been a favorite option for people celebrating a marriage, anniversary, birthday or holiday party. But it’s also a “home away from home” for folks wanting a great meal any night of the week.
The Lino’s experience is consistent, and that’s by design.
“We try very hard to stay the same,” says Charlie Schweinler, co-owner. “As the world changes and other restaurants try to keep up with the latest trends, we try to remain that place where people can connect, get homemade food and enjoy us because we are who we are.”
The name “Lino’s” conjures images of homemade pizza, cheesy lasagna with a thick red sauce and daily specials like veal or chicken parmagiana or deep fried cod, accompanied by a special salad topped with egg, sausage and a special dressing.
The secret is simple. All recipes are made from scratch with top quality ingredients, Schweinler explains.
“Italian food is not complicated. It’s a few simple ingredients done right that give people a warm, good feeling,” he says.
Most cheese used at Lino’s is made by a Wisconsin Amish community. The ricotta cheese used in the lasagna comes in small batches from a cheese maker in Detroit, Mich. When in season, tomatoes come from local farms.
Schweinler’s day begins at 4:30 a.m., when the staff clocks in to bake bread and cook up sauces for evening meals. Everything is made from scratch.
Lino’s founder Michael Battista came to the U.S. at age 19. He first lived in Chicago, where he learned English during night school and earned an engineering degree. He worked for the Sunbeam Corp., contributing to the design of home appliances for kitchen and yard equipment. In Rockford, he met wife Pasqua, also an Italian immigrant, who used her family recipes to launch their business. One by one her siblings came to America and contributed to the success of Lino’s.
Schweinler is married to the founder’s granddaughter, Celeste, whose dad, Joe Battista, is co-owner with his brother, Jim. The children of the current co-owners are next in line to take the reins of this Rockford staple.
Many of the 100 or so Lino’s employees have worked at the restaurant since it opened in 1972.
Jessica Anderson started working at Lino’s after graduating high school. She figured the summer job was a stepping stone toward becoming a nurse or teacher. Eighteen years later, she’s a pillar at Lino’s, handling office work, payroll, front desk, bar, hiring and whatever else is needed.
She gets teary-eyed when thinking about what Lino’s means to her.
“You feel like you’re part of the family here,” says Anderson. “Lino’s is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
During the 2008 recession, in order to keep employees working and families fed, Joe Battista introduced a daily special consisting of a large one-topping pizza with salad for two and a 2-liter bottle of soda for only $10. It’s still available today, but for $14.95.
In return, patrons are devoted to Lino’s.
David and Donna Schafman of Rockford have been customers for as long as they can remember. Few Thursdays come and go without them stopping in for chicken ala Lino or another favorite meal. Their family has chosen Lino’s for wedding receptions, funeral luncheons, birthdays and more.
“By far, Lino’s is my favorite restaurant in town because you always know what you’re getting and the food is outstanding,” says David. “I’ve had almost everything on the menu and it’s all good. The owners really know how to run a business. The staff makes you feel like you’re home. When the owner comes out and tells you he appreciates your business and is happy you’re there, that’s special to me. And if something is wrong, they make it right.”
Lino’s is open from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 4:30 to 9 on Sunday. For reservations or carryout, call (815) 397-2077.