V. Formusa Co.

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FormusaIt’s not that far from 710 W. Grand Ave. in Chicago — where V. Formusa Co. opened its doors in 1898 — to 2150 Oxford Road in Des Plaines, where the company relocated.

That the move took more than a century to make is a testament to the dedication and vision of the four generations that have run the oldest Italian food importer in the Chicago area.

“It was hard to leave the old factory,” Vice President Sue Formusa Johnson admits. “It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city, we had relatives who were born upstairs, and it was a focal point on Grand Avenue.”

“But we were so cramped for space,” Sue’s husband, President Bob Johnson, notes. “We operated out of 12,000 square feet on three floors in Chicago, and now we have 25,000 square feet on a single level.”

The company now has plenty of room to operate and grow. But their spacious new entry area is proof positive that the descendents of Vincenzo Formusa have no intention of leaving the past behind.

Spread across the far wall is a treasure trove of photos and other memorabilia, including a certificate of appreciation presented by La Camera di Commercio Italiana di Chicago to Vincenzo in 1934, and the Stella della Solidarietà Italiana that the president of Italy awarded to Vincenzo’s son, Peter, in 1951. (Father and son both earned the title of Cavaliere from the Italian government along the way.) “The wall reminds us of where we came from,” Sue shares.

Like so many companies before and since, V. Formusa was launched by a visionary who noticed a need and then rose to meet it. An immigrant from Termini Immerese who helped other Italian immigrants come to America, Vincenzo Formusa listened when his clients complained about the lack of Italian food products on this side of the Atlantic. “My grandfather decided to use his contacts in Italy to bring pasta, tomatoes and olive oil to the United States,” Sue explains.

Vincenzo’s son, Peter, expanded the factory and added product lines. And after Bob Johnson married Peter’s daughter, Sue, in 1972, Bob joined the ranks of the family business, working his way up from the very bottom. “I did everything from packaging products to sweeping the floors,” Bob recalls.

Though she fondly remembers labeling bottles of giardiniera for a quarter a day as a kid, Sue’s tenure with the company didn’t officially start until the couple’s four children — Jessica, Joanna, Jeffrey and Jacqueline — were in school. “It was great to have the flexibility to work part time when the kids were growing up,” she explains. “After they went off to college, I came to work full time.”

With Jeff now serving as general manager and Joey as director of sales, the company has settled comfortably into its fourth generation.

Today, it’s hard to enter a local Italian grocery store without running across the distinctive Marconi label that serves as the company’s public face. Among the dozens of products on the current list are vegetable and olive oils; vinegars and salad dressings; giardiniera and peppers; olives and condiments; herbs and spices; canned tomatoes; and a wide assortment of antipasti.

The company’s giardiniera has achieved legendary status, adding kick to hot dogs and beef sandwiches across the Midwest and around the country. Local and national sales are boosted by a website frequented by legions of individual and corporate fans.

“We do business with companies from coast to coast,” Bob explains with pride, “and we have so many customers who moved away from Chicago who buy their giardiniera from our website because they can’t find anything like it where they now live.”

The same attributes that have kept V. Formusa Co. going strong for more than a century, will undoubtedly continue to do so for generations to come.

“It’s the quality of our products, the quality of our service,” Sue explains. “We have a lot of repeat business, and you only earn that by doing a lot of things right.”

V. Formusa Co.
2150 Oxford Road
Des Plaines, Ill. 60018

About Fra Noi

Fra Noi produces a magazine and website that serve the Chicago-area Italian-American community. Our magazine offers our readers a monthly feast of news and views, culture and entertainment that keeps our diverse and widely scattered readers in touch with each other and their heritage. Our website offers a dizzying array of information drawn from every corner of the local community.

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