Lisa’s Pizza is For Sale
Eastside, family-owned restaurant seeks new owners after more than 60 years in business.
More than six decades after opening Lisa’s Pizza, the Bongiorno family is putting the business up for sale.
The decision to retire is not one the Bongiornos take lightly. “It’s just so hard,” Gary Bongiorno said. “Neither one of us really want to retire.”
For nearly 60 years, the couple have lived and breathed restaurant life — which they prove by rattling off the home addresses and orders of several regular customers from memory.
“If the order comes in, and I hear it’s cheese, sausage, mushroom, they want easy sauce, easy cheese — I know it’s going to this customer,” Gary Bongiorno said. “I know by the orders, who it is and where it’s going. Because some of these people have been ordering here since we opened in 1964.”
The couple, who co-own the restaurant with Gary’s brother, Scott, have been involved in the business since the very beginning.
Gary Bongiorno started tossing pizzas when he was 11, under the tutelage of a family friend. “We used to throw the pizzas in the air, and you’d run around real quick and catch it on the other side of the counter,” he said. “But a few times, you’d throw it too far in the air and it would hit the ceiling or catch on the light up there,” he said, laughing.
It took him a few years to master pizza-making, and by that time, Teresa Bongiorno had joined the restaurant as a server.
The two recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Like most couples, they did so at a restaurant. But instead of enjoying a meal, they were the ones in the kitchen. It’s fitting, given what the restaurant means to them both, the couple said.
“We’ve been pretty much married to the business all these years,” Gary Bongiorno said.
Gary Bongiorno inherited the restaurant from his father, Joseph, who opened the restaurant in partnership with his brother. Lisa’s first opened in Shorewood, at the current site of Harry’s Bar & Grill. It later relocated to the corner of N. Oakland and E. Locust streets, before completing a final move to its present location.
As ownership of restaurant passed from one generation to another, new generations of customers passed through the dining room, as well. Teresa Bongiorno said that in her earliest days, she remembers waiting on couples who now visit with their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. “I’ve done four generations, at least,” she said.
Throughout their time as owners, the Bongiornos also saw the neighborhood change, with the demographic of nearby residential homes shifting from families to mostly college students.
They also guided the restaurant through difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when they shifted to takeout service only. One silver lining, according to Teresa Bongiorno, is that every staff member stayed on for the duration of the pandemic.
In retirement, the couple said they plan to travel — something they weren’t been able to do much as owners at Lisa’s. They’ll miss the restaurant — and even joked about returning as employees — but will cherish the happy memories, like the time Lisa’s was featured in an episode of “Around the Corner with John McGivern.”
They’ve also left a mark on the menu, weaving in bits of family history. The house spaghetti sauce, for example, is a recipe from Teresa Bongiorno’s mom.
An appraiser stopped by the restaurant Monday morning. Gary Bongiorno said he expects more information regarding the sale will be available in the coming weeks.
Until then, the restaurant will continue to operate as usual, serving a variety of thin-crust pizzas, pasta, lasagna and spiedini, along with sandwiches, beverages and desserts.
Lisa’s is open for both dine-in and takeout, and delivers to locations within a few miles radius of the restaurant, including the UWM campus.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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