by Pat Capriati
A lifelong passion for Italian food has inspired John to become the president and driving force behind Isola Imports Inc., a leading U.S. importer and distributor of specialty food and gourmet products from the land of his birth.
To truly understand Giovanni “John” Nitti and begin to appreciate the wonderful accomplishments of this most caring individual, we need to go back to his birthplace in his native region of Puglia.
Born in 1942 in Valenzano, Bari, Giovanni’s life was marked at the very young age of 3 by a great loss, the death of his mother. Giovanni’s father moved with his young family to Triggiano, Bari, where he remarried.
In 1956, at the age of 14 and with only 50 lire in his pocket, Giovanni was sent to join his uncle and aunts in Chicago. His aim at the time was to study English before returning to Bari, where a job awaited him at the regional chamber of commerce.
While in Chicago, Giovanni spent many of his afternoons and weekends helping his cousin at a grocery store in the Italian neighborhood around Grand Avenue and Racine Street. It was here that Giovanni became John, and discovered a love that would change his life forever: his passion for Italian food.
In 1962, John opened Nitti Foods, an Italian specialty food store that he operated in the old neighborhood for more than 25 years. Nitti Foods allowed John to meet and build strong bonds of lifelong friendships with the many Italian families that arrived each week from Italy and settled in the Santa Maria Addolorata Parish.
In 1992, John founded Isola Imports. Now a major importer and distributor of Italian gourmet food products, Isola counts high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods Market, Fox & Obel, Treasure Island and Sunset Foods, and leading Italian restaurants such as Spiaggia, Piccolo Sogno and Volare, among its many devoted customers.
Isola Imports is a family business, with three of John’s five children — Michael, Jay and Lisa — playing a vital role in the company’s success and sharing their father’s passion for fine Italian food.
John has long been involved in community programs aimed at assisting at-risk children. On Grand Avenue, he served as president of the Near Northwest Civic Committee, which helped disadvantaged children by providing them with tutoring services, sponsoring Boy and Girl Scout troops, and sending them to summer camp.
John is a proud supporter of Casa Famiglia Agebeo in Bari, which hosts families of children with leukemia. He also is founder and president of Cook Italy, a foundation born in Chicago with the support of leading chefs of local Italian restaurants, as well as Loyola and Benedictine University. Cook Italy works closely with the children at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago to instill a sense of healthy eating in fun and unconventional ways.
John has been married to Janet for 27 wonderful years, has five accomplished children (three boys and two girls), and is a loving grandfather to 10. A successful entrepreneur of the highest caliber, Giovanni “John” Nitti’s utmost desire is to give back to his community and especially children in need.
For details, call Tony Copertino at 630-980-4778 or visit www.molafoundation.org.