Lino’s of Rockford: After 50 Years, the Family Tradition Continues

Many a Rockford resident has fond memories of an outing to this local staple, where you can still find family recipes and a memorable dining experience.

Charlie Schweinler, current owner of Lino’s in Rockford, is carrying on the traditions and family recipes of Michaelino and Pasqua Battista started 50 years ago when they founded this Italian restaurant. (Ashley Smith’ Photos)

Whether you’re dining with loved ones, grabbing pizza to go or enjoying gelato on the patio, Lino’s, 5611 E. State Street, is a delicious Rockford staple. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Lino’s has built its following by helping patrons to feel like full and happy members of the family.

Founded in 1972 by Italian immigrants Michaelino and Pasqua Battista, Lino’s has grown into a 600-seat restaurant with banquet facilities and carry-out service, now run by three generations of the Battista family.

“Pasqua’s family recipes for red sauce, lasagna and other dishes are at the heart of what we do,” says current owner Charlie Schweinler, who’s married to the Battistas’ granddaughter, Celeste. “Everything from our kitchen stems from those family recipes.” 

Along with pizza, the restaurant also serves pasta made entirely from scratch. The lasagna tops the list as the most popular pasta dish, with fettuccine Alfredo following close behind.

“Uncle Vince has been making the lasagna since we opened,” says Schweinler. “Our Uncle Dominic, who is 90 years old, still hand cases all the sausage.” 

Lino’s is best known, however, for its pizza, a carry-out favorite that features homemade red sauce and unique artisan mozzarella cheese made with milk from an Amish community in Wisconsin.

“The cheese, our recipes and how we prepare our dishes have evolved over the past 50 years,” says Schweinler. “It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and love to keep our food to a high standard of quality and consistency.”

Michaelino’s and Pasqua’s sons, Joe and Jim Battista, have managed the restaurant and, over the years, added banquet facilities and an authentic Italian atmosphere to the dining area. Part of the fun of dining at Lino’s, Schweinler says, is sitting at the “Leaning Tower of Pisa” table or having dinner in one of the many cozy booths. 

“We’ve been able to grow our business by looking inward to the strength, foundation and talents of our family and staff,” says Schweinler. “We have 30 employees who have worked here for 20 years or more. That stability helped us get through the tough times.” 

Those hard times include a period in 2020 when Lino’s was forced to close its dining room for the COVID-19 pandemic. To accommodate the sudden shift to carry-out-only dining, Lino’s adopted a multi-lane drive-through pick-up model, efficiently serving as many as 600 to 700 customers per night. The successful carry-out model stayed even after the dining room reopened. Other additions and improvements over the years have continued taking the restaurant to new heights.

“Our outdoor patio and gelato stand give customers more dining options, as does our 14-week themed outdoor specialty market,” says Schweinler.

Named in honor of the Battista family’s matriarch, the Pasqua Mercato outdoor market started in 2019 and runs through the summer months.

“We have a variety of local vendors, fresh foods and Italian delicacies reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon open-air markets in Italy,” explains Schweinler.

Another new addition is the wine bar.

“Two of our employees have become Level 1 sommeliers and have designed and handpicked wines for an updated all-Italian wine portfolio,” Schweinler says.

While it seems there’s always something new and exciting, one thing that will always stay the same is Lino’s dedication to creating a quality dining experience.

“For 50 years, people have relied on Lino’s to bring a sense of tradition and comfort to their special occasions,” says Schweinler. “Being at the heart of those milestones and celebrations reinforces our commitment to helping families continue making memories.”