From its humble beginning back in 1938, brother Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli, Sr. began developing what is known today as one of the "Top 10 Sandwiches in America," a "Chicago Food Legend" and "Chicago's #1 Italian Beef Sandwich," an honor bestowed upon it by Chicago magazine.
The original idea for the Italian beef sandwich was formed out of necessity, as many great ideas are. In the great depression era, meat was scarce. Chris and Al would go to family weddings and in order to make the meat go around, the family sliced it thinly and made sandwiches.
Chris and Al sat down in Al’s home kitchen and formulated their now legendary recipe. They would make their thinly sliced Italian beef sandwiches and deliver them to the local hospitals and businesses in the area. Soon, demand required that they take the next step and build a little beef stand that the local neighbors could visit.
The first official Al's Beef stand began as a small, curbside, outdoor, wooden neighborhood food stand with countertop service located on Laflin and Harrison Street, in Chicago’s “Little Italy” neighborhood. This is where the Italian beef simmered and the newly added Italian sausage grilled over flaming charcoal.
Chris Sr., who was Al's brother-in-law, maintained an outside job during the war, while Al's sister Frances managed to work at the beef stand and raise three sons, Terry, Chuck and Chris, Jr. When the pressures and demands of growing a business became overwhelming, Chris Sr. was forced to devote all of his energies to the beef stand on a full-time basis. It was then that the legend truly began.
The beef stand gradually grew and moved to its present location at 1079 W. Taylor Street, still in Chicago’s "Little Italy." It was here that they added Chicago hot dogs, fresh, homemade, hand-cut French fries, and Polish sausage to the menu.
Chris and Al ran the business from 1938 into the 1970’s when Chris Sr.’s sons Terry, Chris Jr. and Chuck took over the helm. The three brothers ran the day to day operation at the Taylor Street location and began receiving incredible media praise for their restaurant specialty, the Al’s Italian beef sandwich and their homemade, hand-cut French fries. It was after one such media article in Chicago magazine that the brothers had to expand the beef stand to its current building.
In 1999, Dave Howey, of Chicago Franchise Systems, Inc., owner and franchisor of Nancy's Pizza, bought the rights to Al's #1 Italian Beef Restaurants. Dave had been a loyal customer since 1971 and worked out the details to expand Al’s Beef through franchising.
The first Al's Beef franchise opened in Tinley Park, IL in the summer of 2001. The Al's Beef chain has grown significantly throughout Chicagoland and is currently casting its eye to other states.
Al's Beef is totally dedicated to preserving what
this country has come to recognize as a true food icon. When the History Channel produced their 2-hour "History of
Food in America" documentary, Al's Beef was the only Chicago restaurant featured. When Gourmet magazine decided to
do a story on the new Italian beef sensation, it was Al's Beef that was featured in a 4-page spread. And when Travel
and Leisure magazine ran their "Top 10 Sandwiches in America"… you guessed it, it was Al's Beef that was picked.
In March of 2008, Esquire Magazine named the Al’s Italian Beef sandwich as one of “the Best Sandwiches in America.”
It's these and so many more awards and recognitions that have kept us focused on the tradition: keeping our eye on the beef. We have a lot to be proud of and a great legacy to grow and preserve.