5 questions to Rich Zeller, owner of Avanti’s Italian restaurant | Local company
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Position: Co-owner of the Italian restaurant Avanti, 402 S. Main St., Normal and 3302 E. Empire St., Bloomington
1. You recently celebrated Avanti’s 50th anniversary. Did you do something special?
Ribbon cut on June 2 with Chamber of Commerce, business partners, former employees and customers followed by cakes and gondolas.
2. How many owners has Avanti’s had in its 50 year history?
Originally the restaurant was jointly owned and managed by Guido Richard Zeller and his brother Albert when Avanti’s Italian restaurant was established in Normal in June 1971. In 1973 Guido bought his brother’s share and became the sole owner. Guido’s brother, Leo, joined the operation in 1976 and has become an integral part of the business. Guido, a successful owner, manager and friend of the community, passed away in 2002. Today, Guido’s two sons, Marcus and Richard, are involved in the ownership and management of Avanti’s.
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3. What has changed and what has remained the same over the past 50 years?
Our business philosophy and key ingredients have not changed, maintaining the levels of service and quality that people expect from Avanti’s. From the start, some menu items were added – turkey, chicken, fish, and salads, to name a few. Over the years we have added delivery service, catering and most recently online ordering five years ago. And now, curbside pickup.
4. What are your proudest or best memories at Avanti’s?
Have great employees – without them we wouldn’t be celebrating our 50th birthday. We have second generation employees and quite a few couples we have met at Avanti, and a few that a spouse is still employed with us. We have a few meeting groups that meet periodically starting with employees from the 70s, 80s and 90s. When employees leave and are asked what they liked most about Avanti, they often respond to the family atmosphere and how we care about our employees.
5. How did the restaurant start?
Guido Richard Zeller was born in the village of St. Galen, Switzerland. In 1961, he emigrated to the United States and settled in the small town of Walnut, Illinois. There he started working as a truck driver at the nut cheese factory where his brother Albert was employed. The Walnut Cheese Company produced a variety of cheeses which it distributed to pizzerias, restaurants, delicatessens and grocery stores. In 1966, Brother Albert bought the Italian restaurant Lardano on Main Street in Peoria, next to Bradley University. Shortly after, the name was changed to Avanti’s, which means “onward” in Italian. Following the success of Avanti’s near the Bradley campus, Guido and Albert decided to open an Avanti’s at the western end of the Illinois State University campus. In June 2009, the brothers opened a Bloomington store at 3302 E. Empire St. Albert retired in 2018, and his son Stefan became majority owner and president / CEO of five Avanti’s Italian restaurants in Peoria / East Peoria / Beijing.
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