Glorioso’s: A Milwaukee Story

The three brothers, all over the age of 80, walk into the new Glorioso’s Italian Market, where they embrace and greet each other with kisses on each cheek, a tradition they say will never die.

The Glorioso family’s store on the corner of Astor Street and Brady Street has been a staple on Milwaukee’s lower East Side for six decades.

Today, Joe, Eddie and Ted Glorioso are gathering to reminisce about their shared past, celebrate their successes and make a toast to their future.

For the next two hours, the brothers, later joined by two of their sons, Michael and Felix Glorioso, laugh about the adventures they’ve had over the past 65 years. They share stories of loved ones who helped them get to where they are today, and they speak candidly about the love and respect that is needed to make a family business thrive.

In 1946, Joe, Eddie and Ted Glorioso purchased a 1,500-square-foot storefront space at 1018 E. Brady St., on Milwaukee’s lower East Side and opened Glorioso Bros. Fine Foods.

Now, 65 years later, the brothers, with the help of their sons, Michael and Felix, as well as other family members, have opened a new, larger store right across the street and plan to grow the reputation of the Glorioso name even more by expanding its Internet shipping orders and cooking classes.

“It’s exciting to see how we’ve grown,” said Michael Glorioso, co-manager and Ted Glorioso’s only son. “I joined the company just over three years ago. But it was the hard work of my father, my two uncles and my cousin Felix, among others, that got us to where we are today. I’m so grateful to be able to share in the legacy they worked so hard to create.”

Glorioso’s opened its new store on the corner of Astor Street and Brady Street in December, after nearly three years of negotiating a deal and securing financing, Michael said. The 10,000-square-foot building formerly housed the Brady Street Pharmacy and Café and was owned by Jim Searles.

“It was a really difficult experience,” Michael said. “We spent one year dealing with litigation in the court system with the previous owner. The space needed to be renovated, and at the time. banks weren’t financing a lot of build-out projects.”

The new store occupies the entire building, which is nearly four times as big as the store’s previous space. The new store includes a delicatessen and prepared foods department, an indoor café, outdoor seating, a coffee/espresso bar, fresh gelato, an expanded bakery and a large wine, spirits and craft beer department.

Glorioso’s Italian Market offers a selection of fresh produce, Italian wines, cheeses, specialty meats, sandwiches and local products, including treats from businesses such as Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, Bolzano Meats, Alterra Coffee Roasters and Kallas Honey.

Construction of the new space took about nine months, but the finished product is definitely something the Gloriosos can all be proud of, Michael said.

“Brady Street is a historical district, so projects in this area can be particularly difficult,” Michael said.

Moving out of the Brady Street neighborhood was never an option for the family, Michael said.

“It’s more of a love and respect than anything,” Eddie said. “We grew up in this neighborhood, and we grew to love it. Families in the area supported us, and we became one big family. The Brady Street community still has the same characteristics it did when we started this business 65 years ago.”

The Gloriosos still serve many of the same families they did when they opened the business. However, with the new store and the growing popularity of the “good food revolution” that supports locally grown foods, the business is looking forward to serving an entirely new demographic of young people, Ted said.

“Our main goal is to get this place running and be the best that we can be,” Michael said. “We’re still learning and tweaking things that work and don’t work in the larger space, but we’ve always kept our core values, and that will help us be successful.”

The family still owns the former store across the street and plans to utilize the space in the future for cooking classes and a mail order fulfillment service, Michael said.

“We plan to start taking advantage of the fact that many of our loyal customers live all across the country,” Michael said. “We get so many phone calls asking us to ship this or ship that and unfortunately we aren’t set up to do that right now, so we have to say, ‘No.'”

Michael and Felix plan to expand Glorioso’s custom-labeled products to include more olive oils, jarred sauces and specialty cheeses. Felix is also working on dry sausage recipes, Italian salamis and specialty breads.

With the new building, Glorioso’s expanded from just 16 employees to 43.

“Approximately 20 of our employees are close enough they can walk to work,” Michael said. “It was important for us to not only remain in the Brady Street community during the expansion, but to give back and support the people who have supported us for all these years.”

‘Storia’

Joe Glorioso was 24 years old when he returned home from World War II. His brother, Eddie, was 22. Their youngest brother, Ted, was 16 and worked as a delivery truck driver for a local food and beverage company. The brothers received a loan from a bank to purchase the store on East Brady Street, which was previously owned by a butcher.

“It took us a while to clean it up, but we got a few produce racks from other stores that were discontinuing service. Teddy became a full-time stock boy for us, and together we handled many of the home deliveries and other parts of running the business,” Eddie said.

For the first few years, Eddie continued to work his other job, bringing many of his paychecks directly to the store so the brothers could buy produce.

In 1952, Ted opened Trio’s Pizzeria along Mitchell Street on the south side of the city. He used Italian ingredients from Glorioso’s to create a signature sauce and says his was also the first pizzeria in the state to implement home delivery service and create frozen pizzas.

“We worked hard,” said Joe. “We had to. We worked many times into the night, and for minimum dollar. I remember nights where we’d sleep in the store and get up the next morning and do it all over again.”

The brothers expanded the Glorioso name throughout Milwaukee. Ted closed Trio’s Pizzeria one New Year’s Eve and moved the business to 1016 E. Brady St., right next to the produce store. Glorioso’s Italian Villa, serving Trio’s famous pizza, was opened in 1961.

Joe and Eddie drove to an Italian market in Chicago once a week to buy fresh produce and other Italian goods for the store and restaurant. The Glorioso name became a brand in the Milwaukee community, a place where young Italian immigrants could find work and feel at home, Joe said.

“Glorioso’s Italian Villa became one of the first real hangout spots for a generation of young people,” Eddie said. “Many of us would work a full day at the grocery store and then walk over to put in a full shift at the restaurant that night.”

The restaurant was open for an hour after the bars closed and was visited by celebrities, including Jayne Mansfield, Patty Duke and President John F. Kennedy.

“For a long time, it was the place to be,” Eddie said. “Some nights we’d have lines of people all the way around the block just trying to get in. It was a regular stomping grounds for everyone, from Milwaukee’s celebrity elite to kids from the neighborhood.”

According to Eddie, NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known as Lew Alcindor at the time), signed his NBA contract at the Villa, and Milwaukee Bucks star Jon McGlocklin and team co-founder Wes Pavalon frequented the restaurant before and after games, as well.

In 1967, 20 years after the brothers opened the original store, they purchased the building next to the store, created a doorway between the two buildings and expanded Glorioso’s to 3,000 square feet.

“La famiglia”

Throughout the years, more than 60 members of the Glorioso family have worked in the business, Michael said.

“Many of the kids grew up here, bussing tables, doing dishes, stocking shelves and sweeping floors,” Michael said. “My father and my uncles started this business, but behind every single one of them is a great woman that helped out also. It takes a special woman to be able to put up with the hectic workloads, the crazy schedules on top of raising a family. But they did it and did it with such grace.”

Felix Glorioso, co-manager and son of Joe Glorioso, started working in the store when he was 7 years old. He never attended college, but feels as if he learned more about running a business from his father and two uncles than he ever could in a classroom.

“These three are my professors, not just teaching me about the business, but also about life,” Felix said. “I started when I was really young, and I grew up in this business. I’m grateful that I still love every minute of it, and I’m looking forward to seeing where we can go from here.”

According to Joe, the family’s success has come in part because of their hard work, but also because they loved each other and they loved the business.

“All of this couldn’t have been possible without them,” Joe said of his brothers. “We wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are if we weren’t all unified and we didn’t love each other and love what we are doing.”

Joe, now 89, is still co-owner of the store. His brother Eddie, 87, still works as an employee in the store, and Ted, 81 also is a co-owner. Felix, 58 and Michael, 58, serve as co-managers of the business.

“Business has been very good,” Michael said. “Everyone puts in a tremendous amount of hours here, and we continue to live by my Uncle Joe’s business philosophy of not sacrificing quality and customer service for anything, no matter how big our store is.”

The family members have worked through their share of arguments over the years, as well.

“It’s a long time for anyone to be in business together. Sixty-five years is a long time,” Felix said. “Even if we were yelling at each other so loudly it could be heard on the street, business arguments were over as soon as we left the store. We’d kiss and make up and everything would be fine the next day.”

“I don’t believe it has ever been only about money for my family,” Michael said. “It’s about the love and the passion we all have for what we do. The ability my dad and my uncles had to endure the trials and tribulations they did to get us to where we are today is remarkable. They not only taught me, they taught the rest of my family and the community as well a little bit about what it means to respect one another and how to carry each other through the ups and the downs of the business. What a wonderful blessing I have to carry the Glorioso name in this community, and it’s because of the work that my father and my uncles and Felix did. That feeling of respect doesn’t end, it has nothing to do with age, and the Glorioso name will live on forever in this community because of the work these men started.”

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