Left, is restaurant owner Tina Tortorici with her mother Lilla Tortorici, 87. Back left are employees Gabriela Castillo, Eugenia “Bella” Servin, and Elena Hernandez, front right. – Tina’s Italian Café & Bake Shop photo
by Tina Johansson
Gurnee restaurateur Tina Tortorici believes the way of life in her Sicilian hometown has something to do with longevity.
“I had an aunt who lived to be 110. She was one of the oldest people in Sicily, and about the 12th oldest recorded to ever live in Italy,” said Tortorici, owner of Tina’s Italian Café & Bake Shop.
“My mother is 87, and my grandmother lived to be 90,” she said with a smile, noting her good stock. She pointed out the beautifully crocheted table cloths her mother made for the popular café located in Saratoga Square on the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Washington Street.
Part of a healthy and long existence, Tortorici said, is eating well. “My food is one of the best kinds of food: It is simple, organic, and fresh,” she said.
Indeed, by the reviews on social media, the awards she has amassed and the accolades from her customers, you know you are at the right place when you are at Tina’s. The food is not only healthy but delicious. Little wonder the place is packed on any given afternoon. Many of her customers including this reporter are repeat customers.
Tortorici, who opened the place—then just a deli—with her daughter Angie 16 years ago, makes everything from scratch, using old family recipes. Every morning she is up at the crack of dawn baking several kinds of breads from her famous focaccia to her large round sandwich rolls.
While her daughter no longer has the time to work alongside her, Tortorici has a number of faithful, capable employees, many whom have been with her since the start.
While the café offers specials each day, among the most requested are her homemade lasagna, sandwiches, salads, minestrone soup, and anything topped with her incredible bolognese sauce. “People like the sauce so much, they tell me I should bottle it,” Tortorici said.
“I’ve changed nothing since the restaurant opened because everybody tells me they love it. It’s like home here. I have people tell me they would rather come here than spend a fortune going to Italy,” said the owner.
Tina’s Italian Café & Bake Shop is at 510 Washington Street, Gurnee. Call 847.244.9001. Catering and carry-outs are offered.
Hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.; and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sunday.