It’s one of Oregon’s downtown institutions, and after 40 years of what can only be characterized as remarkable consistency, Maria’s Pizza could be on the verge of change.
John Indelicato, who was born in Sicily and moved to Rockford at age 19, opened the small restaurant on South Main Street in 1978 and has decided it’s time to sell the business and retire.
He’s listed the business, building and property, along with a parking lot next to his 134 S. Main St. location, for $945,000.
He says someone can buy it all, or just the business for a negotiated price, and he’d help in the kitchen for a few weeks during the transition.
The 69-year-old Indelicato said he’ll feel like a wealthy man when it sells, and feels he’s earned every penny.
“I worked hard for it,” Indelicato said matter-of-factly. “There were no weekends for almost 40 years. We only took Mondays and the holidays off. Otherwise, I was here every day.”
Indelicato has operated Maria’s with his wife and three daughters, two of whom continue to work at the restaurant. And when he had some hours away from the business, he used them maintaining rental properties he owns in the village.
He’s decided to retire because after suffering a debilitating illness last year that caused him to close the restaurant for more than two months, Indelicato said it’s time to slow down.
“I don’t want to repeat what I had before,” he said. “I want to enjoy the time I have left.”
Welcome to America
Indelicato moved to the U.S. in 1969 with his parents, a brother and a sister. He said the family, which lived on a farm with vineyards, left Sicily for “a better life” in America.
“We were working,” he recalled. “We weren’t starving, but we knew there was more opportunity here.”
The family had relatives in Rockford, and Indelicato worked at a Chrysler auto plant in Belvidere, Ill., for almost eight years. At the same time, he took side jobs at a pizzeria and a small Italian grocery store.
“I was busy,” he said.
About seven years after arriving in Rockford, Indelicato married his wife, a woman from the same town in Sicily.
Not long after getting married, Indelicato said, he “thought it was time to go on my own” and the couple began looking for a place to make a home. They happened to drive through Oregon and spotted a vacant building on South Main Street that was for sale.
“There was no pizza place here, so we thought it was a good spot,” he recalled. “The town was a lot smaller at the time, maybe 2,500.
“I don’t regret it, I’ll tell you that,” Indelicato added. “I love it. It’s a nice little town, and I’ve got lots of friends now.”
Starting a restaurant
A man of few words, Indelicato said he and his family “started from the bottom up” in establishing Maria’s Pizza, which is not named after anyone in particular.
He and his wife came up with a simple menu built around their most popular items, spaghetti and lasagna.
Indelicato said he does almost all the cooking at Maria’s. Each day for the past 40 years, he’s made pizza dough, pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce. He typically prepares those things in the morning and goes home around the lunch hour before returning to prepare the kitchen and dining room for a 4 p.m. opening.
“Then my wife and my daughters help at night,” he said. “My daughter comes over and helps during the day, too, but most of it comes out of my hands.
“The food menu is pretty much how I started,” Indelicato added. “I say if it’s not broke, no fix, you know? If you put more stuff on the menu, then you need a bigger kitchen and more help.”
Other than remodeling the dining room about 10 years ago, Maria’s has changed very little in the four decades it’s been open, he said.
A life in Oregon
The Indelicatos and their three daughters – Josie, Agese and Alexandra – have liked living here because of Oregon’s small-town nature and friendliness, John said.
He’s loved living in a place where he’s “met a lot of nice people” and “you don’t have to rush anywhere.”
“It’s quiet, it’s an easy place to live, and everything’s right here,” he observed. “You don’t have to go very far for what you need. I guess I got so used to a small town. I like it very much.”
He added Maria’s has turned out to be more popular and successful than he could have imagined when it began.
“We made it successful,” he said. “Everybody kept coming back, so we must have done something right.”