Rather than suffer through another day without sausage and peppers, native Chicagoans Frank and CeCe Bellino opened Sweet Peppers 12 years ago, and a Downtown tradition was born. Frank and CeCe recently sold the business to longtime customers and friends Tia and Bill Howley, and are excited to move closer to their son in Austin, Texas. Mr. Bellino took some time out from his last day at the shop to talk to the Alibi about the legacy of Sweet Peppers.
Why'd you decide to open up Sweet Peppers in the first place?
Everybody said they had Chicago-style this or that, but we couldn't find it. And if you can't find something, it's needed.
Who's the cook of the family. Is it you?
My wife! My wife has a magic hand. She makes her own cannoli shells and filling, makes her own sausages, rolls her own meatballs. Almost nobody else around here makes their own cannoli shells from scratch, but she does.
Any family secrets you wouldn't mind sharing?
Well, we use good seasonings, quality meat [from Rio Rancho Meats]. And I'll tell you, we add no fat to our sausage.
What? No fat? Get out!
I'm not joking! The meat's already got plenty of fat to begin with. And just I hate it when a sausage looks great, but when you bite down on it—yuck. There's usually some cheap, hard fat in there. To me, that just ruins a sausage.
Yeah, that hard stuff is gross.
Well, you know, if it's made cheap, it tastes cheap. So we try to cook people's food up at the last second.
That's not something you're likely to see at Bucca di Beppo.
It's too bad, really. People are losing what real cooking is about. They're favoring the chains. They're forgetting what food is supposed to taste like. But I'd rather make it than fake it.
What are you going to miss the most about this place?
Meeting and talking with a lot of good people. We had great customers for our 12 years here. I'm really going to miss our customers. We're just glad we could make them happy. Tia and Bill will carry it on.
Sweet Peppers will reopen under the same name on Monday, August 8. Tia and Bill Howley will continue to serve Frank and CeCe's signature items, alongside their own contemporary bistro fare. The new owners plan to serve dinner, beer and wine by the end of this year.