Up and down Taylor Street, “help wanted” signs hang in restaurant windows. Pompei Restaurant advertises jobs with training for everyone from cooks to clean-up staff. Even UPS had a sign in the window, seeking full-time and part-time employees.
The shortage of workers led organizers to cancel the Little Italy Festa for the second summer in a row. Last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the restaurant closures accompanying it nixed the festa. This year, the restaurants do not have enough employees to staff booths on Taylor Street.
The Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Organization and Onesti Entertainment, which staged the August street fair for several years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, announced in early August they were canceling the festa for the second year.
Cancelation was “for the greater good,” said Ron Onesti. He said the festa has two goals: “to foster and perpetuate Italian culture and foster the development of the neighborhood, especially the business community which is as important if not more.
“In the current business environment, the participating businesses are struggling to get help on a day-to-day basis,” Onesti said. “So the labor they would need is practically nonexistent.” That factor, along with continued concerns about everyone’s health, led to the decision.
“I miss that we did not do it,” said Ralph Davino, owner of Pompei Restaurant, 1531 W. Taylor St., one of the largest eateries in the area. “I told Ronnie, ‘I don’t have any people to run a booth.’” Davino offered to supply Onesti with pizzas for Onesti’s people to sell.
In the meanwhile, Pompei needs cooks, dishwashers—“everybody,” Davino said. Members of his family are filling in as best they can. “It is tough,” he added.
At Conte Di Savoia, the Italian foods store at 1438 W. Taylor St., owner Michael DiCosola said the timing was not right for a fest this year. “We actually didn’t want to participate because of the employee shortage and too many things going on,” he said. “Right now we are OK, but to operate inside and outside would be a problem.”
Next year? DiCosola responded, “We will participate—no problem.” Davino agreed.
Onesti said security was “never an issue.” He rejected rumors that extremists threatened the fest, saying that allegation was “completely false.” He reported “zero” threats.
The Festa Pasta Vino on Oakley Avenue, generally a Father’s Day weekend tradition, also was canceled. The Little Italy West fest in Addison was not cancelled but postponed, and Onesti said he might try doing something akin to an Octoberfest but will “rule on the side of the greater good.”
In Chicago, Onesti has more definite plans. “We will have a tremendous Columbus Day Parade,” he said. (See related article on page 4.)
For more information, contact Onesti Entertainment at (630) 962-7000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Susan S. Stevens