My father, Lawrence Gibbilini, was born on the north side of Chicago in 1918. When the crash of ’29 sent the country spiraling into the great depression, Dad, along with his six younger brothers and sisters, helped make ends meet by selling their mother’s pizza door-to-door; some say the first pizza delivery ever.
Despite the tough times, the pizza business took off. Dad was in charge of the distribution department but quickly tired of organizing his siblings and requested a transfer into production (the start of his cooking career).
His mother, a great traditional cook, taught him the secrets of her pizza and many other family recipes. My dad, on the other hand, liked to experiment and actually started using fresh vegetables and whole wheat in his recipes (to the horror of his mother) before it was in vogue.
When my dad was eighteen, his mother sold her pizza business and decided that Lawrence should go into the bricklaying business with his father. But Dad had a passion for cooking and refused to give it up completely. On weekends he would throw a large checkered tablecloth over the dining room table, drag up every chair in the apartment and invite all his friends, family and acquaintances over for dinner. He would serve them his variations of time-honored Gibbilini dishes as well as recipes he was developing. Most received outstanding reviews and earned him the title of “Lawrence of Oregano.” Dad’s pasta and sandwiches were great but his pizza, stuffed and thin crust, were his crowning achievements. Over the years, it seemed we always had family and friends over, eating, drinking, talking and listening to old Frank Sinatra and big band records. My dad truly practiced his philosophy about life: the key to happiness is friends, good food and music.
My dad died at the age of 72 while cutting the rug to Frank Sinatra with my mother. Years later, I cleaned out his garage and found close to a thousand assorted plates, glasses and silverware (none of which matched) that made me think he’d been collecting them for years in hopes of opening his own restaurant. I wish I had known.
All in all, I’d have to say that was probably Dad’s only regret in life. He was well-loved and thought of by his family and friends and lived life with a zest that I can only envy. We miss him greatly.
Founded by Mark Russell in 1993, today Oregano’s Pizza Bistro has 15 locations across the state of Arizona. Specializing in original Chicago-style thin crust, stuffed and pan pizzas, Oregano’s continues to be inspired by recipes passed down from the Gibbilini family. Look for a new Queen Creek location opening later this year. Learn more at Oreganos.com.