Antonino's Ristorante
Marketing

How The Grinch Saved Christmas at Antonino’s Ristorante

  • Getting your pizza delivered by The Grinch, a promo dreamed up during the pandemic by the owners of Antonino’s Ristorante, will make your heart grow three sizes bigger.
  • Antonino’s has earned major TV coverage and social media buzz for the character, who has delivered pies for the restaurant every December since 2020.

He’s big and green and looks really mean, but we all know The Grinch is a softie at heart. Just ask Nanette Pecoraro, co-owner of Antonino’s Ristorante in La Grange, Illinois.

Nanette and her husband, Sam, first hired “the mean one” to deliver pizzas to their customers in December 2020. And despite his surly demeanor, the costumed character proved so popular, they hired a second Grinch the next year. Now they have six. And just as the original Grinch ended up bringing Christmas joy to Whoville, Antonino’s is doing the same for La Grange every holiday season.

The idea occurred to the Pecoraros, who have three kids of their own (Angelo, Stephanie and Nikolas), during the lockdown misery of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a way, it’s the classic story of how The Grinch saved Christmas.

“We came up with this idea to help kids and parents bring some joy into the holiday,” Nanette told PMQ. “We were all homebound. Kids were e-learning from school, couldn’t see friends and were stuck inside. So we thought, ‘Let’s get a Grinch costume to put kids’ smiles back on their faces!’”

the grinch, wearing a Santa hat, is sprawled out on the hood of a car with a pizza box in his hands

Related: 5 ways to pump up holiday sales at your pizzeria

That was in November 2020, and, according to Antonino’s Facebook page, The Grinch officially went to work on November 29. As PMQ reported in its January-February 2021 issue, the Pecoraros dispatched the first Grinch on pizza deliveries all over town, much to the delight of parents and children alike. They promoted Grinch deliveries on social media, and it didn’t take long before Antonino’s phones were ringing off the hook.

CBS Chicago and NBC Chicago, along with ABC affiliate KVIA and other news outlets, jumped onto the story, adding to the marketing buzz and spreading the Antonino’s name far and wide in Illinois. More importantly, though, customers and their kids wanted to get their pictures taken with The Grinch. The scowling misanthrope was posing with little ones across La Grange, and ‘tweens and teens lined up for photo ops as well.

All for the cost of a seasonal costume that the Pecoraros bought online.

the grinch poses down on his knees in a customer's doorway between two little boys, who are smiling and looking happy to see him

“One Grinch costume led to two,” Nanette recalled, “and now we have six.”

Putting a costumed character behind the wheel of a car is never a good idea, safety-wise; after all, the Grinch could barely get his dog-led sled up and down Mount Crumpit. So, Nanette says, “For every Grinch, there is a driver, and we never charge extra for The Grinch. It’s pretty funny when you look down the street and you see another one of our Grinches delivering food to the neighbors.”

As holiday marketing strategies go, hiring The Grinch to deliver pizza is a lot smarter than letting him rob Cindy Lou Who’s house. But this is no one-off gimmick—Antonino’s Grinches have become a much-anticipated annual tradition in La Grange, a small town of about 16,000 people, and the Pecoraros have employed it with considerable wit.

Related: Puppy love: Turn your pizzeria into a haven for dog lovers

this photo shows the grinch, seated in a chair, getting his beard combed out by a hair stylist

Every move the character makes is a photo op. You might see The Grinch getting his beard combed out at a local salon. Lounging on a bench in the middle of town. Leaning against the door of Village Hall. And he’s usually got an Antonino’s menu or logoed pizza box in hand.

But mostly you’ll see him on customers’ doorsteps all the way through Christmas Eve, ensuring that Antonino’s remains top-of-mind for pizza delivery in La Grange and surrounding communities.

Antonino’s six Grinches deliver pies on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, then show up for curbside pickups on Wednesdays, thus ensuring that customers who live outside Antonino’s delivery area get their chance to meet him. “We’ve had people drive 30 to 45 minutes just to get photos with The Grinch,” Nanette said.

this photo shows the Pecoraro family, including Nanette and Sam and their three kids
The Pecoraro family

It’s not unusual for restaurants to offer scheduled on-premise visits with holiday characters like the Easter Bunny (Antonino’s has one of those, too) or Santa Claus. But spotting a very real-looking Grinch on your doorstep or strolling around the business district with a pizza box is enough to make even the most cynical Scrooge crack a smile.

“This has been such a success that we even made it onto five news outlets in Chicago,” Nanette says. “Now you see other pizzerias trying to do the same as us.”

But she doesn’t mind that other restaurants have borrowed the idea. “It’s all good,” she said, “because we are the #OG, and kids all over could use some extra smiles!”

It’s enough to make your heart grow three sizes bigger.

All photos provided by Antonino’s Ristorante, La Grange, Illinois