Since 1977, Starship Restaurant & Catering has fed Chicago’s unending need for sandwiches.
“Few things are a satisfying as a well crafted sandwich and a cup of soup,” says Paul McKenna, owner of Starship Restaurant,” but Starship has always been about more than sandwiches; our goal is is to make people happy.”
Forty-one years ago, McKenna, a 21 year-old economics major at Northeastern Illinois University, had become a self-described connoisseur of subs as a result of his fun and free-wheeling lifestyle. After an evening out, McKenna found himself at the apartment of his longtime friend, Joe Lanasa. Lanasa’s apartment was situated on Madison Avenue in Forest Park and directly across from a recently shuttered Custard’s Best Stand; a large “for rent” sign was visible in the front window. On that very night, McKenna and Lanasa hatched a plan to open a submarine sandwich shop in the vacant store front.
Before long the sub sandwich loving duo had signed on the dotted line and committed to pay $350 per month in rent for their soon-to-be sandwich shop. Thanks to deep sea Naval ships, other notable sub shops in the 70’s were looking underwater to drive their concepts, but McKenna and Lanasa “went up into space” and Starship Subs was born. The two had absolutely no restaurant experience whatsoever and McKenna took a home just $50 per week in the first six moths Starship was open for business.
“We were totally clueless;” says McKenna with a chuckle, ” I remember a tamale salesman stopped by one day, took one look around the place and said, ‘you guys need some serious help.'” Their make-shift mentor had some good advice for the eager pair and before long they were slinging profitable sandwiches in well-organized kitchen.
Family obligations pulled Lanasa away from the business after two years, but Starship’s signature Italian sub sandwich bears his name to this very day.
“The La Nasa and a cold beer on a hot day is a match made in heaven,” says McKenna of the sandwich brimming with salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone cheese and hot gardinera.
While a Starship sandwich may seem more expensive than other storefront subs, each one holds 6-ounces of protein making them a value purchase by comparison. Additionally the busy shop offers 4-5 homemade soups daily. Henry Laskowski became McKenna’s business partner in in 1979 and today he quietly oversees the considerable soup production at the shop; they offer more than 150 varieties.
Starship Restaurant started when a couple of friends took a leap of faith, but the business has been built on a foundation respect. McKenna and Laskowski work hard to maintain a culture of respect; in their shop communication and family come first. As a result Starship has a committed and reliable staff.
McKenna, with more than forty years of experience under his belt, now teaches Restaurant Start-Up and Management at Triton. He knows first hand, independent ownership makes food special. He instructs his students to learn what he has practiced for more than two decades. McKenna names authenticity, integrity, and quality as the three key ingredients in every Starship sandwich.
“Take care of your product and it will stand the test of time;” says McKenna “good food and great service are the key to long term success.”
Retirement may be on the horizon for McKenna and Laskowski, but they have a goal for Starship to live beyond their ownership. McKenna notes it will take a special person to take over the business, but both men will remain grateful for the support Forest Park has shown them over the last four decades. Laskowski and McKenna both know the people in the Forest Park, Oak Park, and River Forest communities care about active engagement and invest in keeping things local.Loyal customers have kept Starship in business and McKenna knows he will have to look those patrons in the eye every day. He simply works to make his community proud.
Starship Restaurant and Catering
7618 Madison St
Forest Park, IL 60130