Care in cooking, ingredients and presentation set Aurelio’s Pizza apart from competitors, President and CEO Joe Aurelio says, but that’s just the start. Growing the business and keeping it going strong is just as important as serving a distinctive pizza. “We have a 53-year history with our business,” Aurelio emphasizes. “We give back to the community. They are our neighbors – it’s in our DNA. And because of this, we’re very well-received.” This includes sponsorship of teams, choirs, bands and local community organizations. Often, Aurelio’s locations will hold events for community organizations at which 10 to 20 percent of the proceeds for that evening are donated to the organization.
What inspires the loyalty in customers to drive out of their way is the sauce, Aurelio maintains. “‘It’s the sauce’ is our slogan,” Aurelio points out. “No matter what the price, we do not skimp on anything. If we have to raise prices, we will do that, but we’ll never reduce quality or cut corners on our product.”
Long-time customers say the pizza has not changed over the years, Aurelio maintains. Maybe this is because Aurelio’s pays attention to details. One example is the stainless steel rack that lifts cooked pizzas approximately 1/4-inch above the serving pan so the juices drip down and keep the crust crisp instead of allowing it to get soggy.
Control the Ingredients
Another way Aurelio’s keeps its pizza consistent is by controlling the ingredients. Pizza dough is made fresh daily at all locations following the original recipe, and five years ago, Aurelio bought the company that makes the company’s famous sausage. “With owning the sausage company, I’m able to keep the price fair to our franchisees,” Aurelio asserts. “We never deviate from the recipe and never skimp on the product. The sausage is fresh and homemade and delivered to each store. It has no preservatives, no fillers. I didn’t want to have it in an outsider’s hands. I wanted to control that so I can feel good every time I deliver to our owners that they’re getting quality.”
Aurelio’s has had the 6-inch-long, 1/4-pound sausages manufactured for it since the 1970s. They are sold in mild and hot versions in approximately 70 independent grocery stores. This year, Aurelio’s sausage was sold at the Joliet, Ill., Slammers and Whiting, Ind., Oilmen minor league baseball parks on buns with toppings like hot jardinière or tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Aurelio suggested the Italian sausage sandwiches instead of the Aurelio’s pizza the baseball clubs had requested.
“I’m hesitant to put our pizza in other people’s hands because I can’t let the quality suffer,” he concedes.
Largest Pizza Restaurant
Joe Aurelio Jr. founded Aurelio’s in Homewood, Ill., in 1959 with four tables. He served home-cooked beef sandwiches, but as the popularity of pizza took off, he combined several family recipes with his own approach. The business kept expanding into successive storefronts – at one time, the restaurant filled four storefronts in Homewood – but crowds kept having to line up to get into the restaurant.
So Aurelio Jr. bought a 12,000-square-foot warehouse a block away and opened it as a restaurant in January 1977 with 500 tables. His son, Joe Aurelio, is adding a 1,200-square-foot banquet room to the three-level dining area with 30-foot ceilings. Aurelio has claimed it is the world’s largest pizzeria, and so far, no one has challenged him on it.
The company owns another pizzeria in nearby Richton Park, Ill., that measures 1,540 square feet. The remaining 41 Aurelio’s locations in six states are franchised.
“Aurelio’s is not just another pizza place – it’s a family destination where people share their memories,” Aurelio maintains. “We’ve had people with first dates, we’ve had people propose here, we’ve had from funeral luncheons to baptism parties. It just becomes part of people’s lives.”