It’s dj vu all over again for Brookfield’s business community, with two formerly vacant storefronts filled in recent weeks. Broadway Bakery has filled the void created when Fingerhut Bakery went out of business, and Napoli Pizzeria has appeared in the former site of Smilin’ Joe’s Pizza at 9305 Ogden Ave.
Napoli Pizza owner Frank Imparo is a veteran of the fine-dining business, having operated Italian restaurants in Bloomingdale and Chicago for several years. His former restaurant, Amore, was rated among the Chicago Tribune’s top 10 restaurants in 2005, and received similar accolades from numerous other local food critics.
Imparo said he always had wanted to operate his own restaurant, and he had cousins in the restaurant business. He also said he had been inspired by his grandmother, who handed down many of the recipes he still uses today.
Growing up, “there wasn’t a day when you didn’t have a full course meal waiting for you,” Imparo said. “Cooking was her passion; that’s all she did.”
But last December, Imparo sold his restaurant “to simplify our lives.” He said he and his wife, Tabitha, “were spending too much time at work. The restaurant business has to be one of the toughest businesses there is. We were working seven days a week.”
That left little time for the couple to spend with their children, who are 7 and 11 years old. So when the Ogden Avenue location became available, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“We still use the same family recipes,” Imparo said. “All our ingredients are fresh. Nothing is frozen.”
Imparo said he makes his own dough, Italian sausage, a special blend of cheeses and pasta.
“We make our own sauces,” he said. “It’s not the canned stuff.”
Like his grandmother before him, Imparo said he makes sure “no one leaves here hungry. We’re famous for our jumbo slices.”
Imparo said he and his wife may eventually decide to open another full-scale restaurant “when the kids are a little older.”
For now, “I like this much better,” he said. “I can take it easy for a while.”
A bakery reborn
Another newcomer to Brookfield’s business community is Broadway Bakery, which opened Jan. 7 in the former location of the shuttered Fingerhut Bakery, a fixture in the community at 9110 Broadway Ave. for 36 years.
While the opening represents a renewal of an old Brookfield tradition, the baking business is a new venture for owners Peter and Lily Vasic, who emigrated to the United States from the former Czechoslovakia eight years ago.
Although Peter’s father had been a baker, in the old country he had been a journalist and his wife was a Supreme Court judge. They left their country under duress in a time of war, with bombs falling while they were trying to raise two children in grammar school.
Peter recently had worked as a truck driver and “didn’t want to do it any more,” he said. “I always wanted to do something more creative.”
Peter runs the business full time while Lily helps out on weekends; the rest of the time she works full time as a massage therapist. Professionally, the Vasics have had a variety of careers, which Lily attributed to the wealth of opportunity in America, especially compared to their home country.
“Right now, we don’t have our country any more, so our country is America,” she said. “We love our country. You have a chance to do whatever you want to do, if you’re just willing to work for it.”
Although each left a life and career behind, Lily said that’s part of the price of a new beginning in a new country.
“For all the Europeans who had to leave, if you decide to go somewhere and start from zero, you have to leave everything behind,” she said. “The first generation always has it the hardest.”
Although there are many immigrants from Europe in the community, “the people in this area are our customers,” Lily said. “We’re trying to see what they like.”
The Vasics offer eight different kinds of bread, cakes, pies, pork chops, hamburgers and portabello mushrooms.
“People are open to something new. If you give them something to try, they always come back for more if they like it,” Lily said.
The Vasics said they appreciated the help they received from the Fingerhut family and also village staff, who “were very helpful and nice while we were remodeling,” Lily said.
“It’s hard to work seven days a week and have two kids,” she said. “It’s not easy, but that’s America.”