Time capsule: Alongi’s

In the small mining community ofDuQuoin, Illinois, Alongi’s is a truesurvivor: Sicilian immigrant Guy Alongistarted his business during the heightof the Great Depression, in 1933, andhis family continues to weather difficulteconomic times in the present day.However, even through hardship, thebusiness has seen remarkable successas an independent family restaurant, serving more than1 million pizzas and 8 million glassesof Budweiser over the years, as well asushering dozens of celebrities through itsdoors, including Bob Hope, Willie Nelsonand Red Skelton. Alongi’s also has thedistinction of serving up some firsts insouthern Illinois: the first pizza operation,the first television in a business, and thefirst drive-up window.

The restaurant began as a sandwich shop, but by the early1950s, Alongi’s haentered the pizza business. “We cateredfamilies,” says 81-year-old John Alongwho ran the restaurant with hisbrother Jerome “Mimi” fordecadesafter their father, Guy,passed (today, John’s two sons carry on theday-to-day operations). “We gavebaseball cards to kids—more than20,000 over the years—and built thebusiness that way.” Still, hissecretto longevity involves more thankid-friendlymarketing;hecredits the success of Alongi'sto three factors:service, food andattention to customers. “Business comesback to where it’s treated well,” he says.

That attention extends to employees,as well as the larger community. “If youdon’t treat your employees like family,you’re in the wrong business,” says John,and points out that several staff membershave served the restaurant for more than25 years. On behalf of Alongi’s, John alsosponsors several college scholarships;works on local committees and thetourism board; and regularly visitsWashington to speak for small businessowners. “You can’t take everything; youhave to give something back,” says John.“If you’re going to stay in business, youhave to be involved. You have to be activein the community and take part.”

Most of all, John wants the youngergeneration to appreciate the viability ofthe restaurant business as more than justa job. “Our industry needs a little peptalk about how the singular independentcan survive. The restaurant business canprovide a good career. This is a toughindustry, but you shouldn’t go into abusiness just for money; you have tolike to get up and go to work every day.”