Hot and fresh from the oven for 25 years

Jullianni's Pizzeria endures in Heights

By Jeff Vorva

The "glorified bus boy" at Jullianni's Pizzeria and Pub in Palos Heights has prepared food for royalty, historical figures and celebrities.

At one time, he used to cook breakfast for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He helped prepare a feast for actor Alan Alda's daughter's wedding.

These days Bill Malliaras is happy meeting and greeting regular folks as owner of Jullianni's, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary July 13.

"I have a love for this place and the hospitality business," Malliaras said. "It's in my blood. People ask me how I get up and do the same thing over and over and over. I say that it's like coming to a party every day. I couldn't imagine doing anything else right now.

"We're hands-on people," he added. "Very often the customers will see me bussing tables. I always crack a joke that I'm a glorified bus boy."

Malliaras was well travelled before settling down in Orland Park and helping to run the show in Palos Heights. He was born in Chicago, grew up in Oak Lawn and attended Richards High School for one year and then moved to Glenview. He worked as a chef for five years at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston before coming back to the Southwest Suburbs in 1995 to co-own the restaurant with his younger brother, Perry.

He said that kings, queens, sheiks and presidents of other countries used to stay at the Ritz. When Onassis came to town, she would order a four-minute boiled egg and dry toast that Malliaras would prepare, but he never met her. He did get to meet Alda.

"I was a part of the catering team that created his menu for this daughter's wedding," Malliaras said. "There was a rule at the Ritz-Carlton that we were never allowed to speak to any of these people unless spoken to by them. He spoke to us. He shook our hands. We got his autograph."

He moved back in 1995 to co-own the restaurant, which was a Giordano's franchise at the time.

The Malliaras brothers split with Giordano's in 2000. They wanted to name the restaurant Juliano's, which sounded like Giordano's but there was a copyright on that name. So they tossed in an extra "l" and "n" and changed the "o" to an 'I' and were ready to roll.

Their customers, however, weren't.

Bill said they lost 30 percent business because of the name change.

"Some people would walk into the restaurant and say, 'Oh, you're not Giordano's anymore?'" he said. "Then they would walk out."

In 2006, Perry sold his share of the place to Bill, who compared the next three years as like "being in a war" with the economy starting to dramatically dip. In 2009, Bill said he was broke but wanted one more chance to revive the restaurant and gambled by giving the place a $150,000 facelift.

"I came to the conclusion that our food was good - it always has been - and our service is good and it always has been," he said. "But there was something about the place. It was old. It needed to be revamped and upgraded. I was the only restaurant without a bar. So in May or June of 2009 I decided we needed the change but we had to do the construction and still stay open because we couldn't afford to close."

He credited the bank then known as Palos Bank and Trust and Loan Officer Bill Paetow for giving him a loan to pay for part of the new look. Malliaras said the new look led to a "complete turnaround in our business."

"If it wasn't for him giving me the loan, this would have never happened," he said. "The crazy thing is that three months after I got the loan, the banks stopped lending money. The timing was just right. God was looking over me. If we didn't remodel the restaurant we would have never made it."

He also praised his staff of 25 for making the place a success including Michelle Fallon, of Dyer, Ind., who has been a server for 19 years and Bridget Lorenz, of Alsip, who has been a server for 15 years and Christina Livigni, of Palos Hills has been a server for 12 years.

"Some of my workers love this place more than I do," he said.

Malliaras said his wife, Ellen, was supportive during the lean times.

He doesn't have a game plan for how he will celebrate the anniversary but he said he will have various food specials and perhaps an outdoor cookout. He is trying to locate a menu from 1988 and would like to have a day in which he offers food for prices from that era.

The restaurant is located at 7239 W. College Drive and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.

Aside from pizza, the eatery serves sandwiches, pastas, appetizers and various other foods. Catering is also available.

Malliaras is also mulling opening takeout restaurant in the south suburbs in the future.

He has served kings, queens and celebrities but he can't say enough about his current crop of customers.

"I have the deepest appreciation for the people of this community and the surrounding communities," he said. "If it wasn't for them, we still wouldn't be here. I can't thank them enough. I want to say 'thank you, thank you, thank you' to every one of them. And for every pizza I ever screwed up, I'm sorry. But we always try to make it up to them."