Timothy Inklebarger

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since Al Mancini launched his Italian restaurant on Lake Street, but after selling the eatery and seeing it resold, he’s returning for the next year to help reboot the business.

The reprise comes with a new owner, Vince Pecora, who has spent the last 35 years working in the industry, at one point serving as the caterer for Air Force One during the Clinton administration.

Mancini’s, located at 1111 Lake St., closed its doors at the end of January and has been dormant since.

More recently Mancini, who also owns the building, has been working with Pecora on remodeling of the 65-seat restaurant, which also will feature a new menu.

The traditional Italian restaurant launched in 1995 at 1038 Lake St. Nine years later, Mancini bought the building at the current location.

Mancini sold the business in 2014, and the restaurant was again sold to a different owner a few years later, but he remained the owner of the building. Mancini had been out of the business for about five years when the restaurant closed, and he did not hold the previous owner to the lease.

“The bottom line is I’m back,” said Mancini, who will work over the next year to help Pecora launch a reimagined Mancini’s. “I’m going to be the landlord, but I’m going to help oversee the first year,” he said.

Pecora, who was born and raised in Oak Park, said the new menu will be Italian-American fare “geared toward foodies and families.”  

He is the founder of Poppa Clemenza’s pizza and cafes in Palatine, Hoffman Estates and Elk Grove. He sold those restaurants and later opened Ciao, Baby! Restaurant in Barrington.

“I’m psyched to come back to Oak Park,” Pecora said in a recent interview.

While he has a long culinary pedigree, his most notable accomplishment is as caterer for Air Force One from 1996 to 2000.

His restaurant was randomly discovered by Air Force One staff during a convention in the 1990s. The president enjoyed the pizza and “all of a sudden they started calling,” Pecora recalled.

He said the revamped Mancini’s will include about half Italian meals, a quarter American fare and another quarter fusion dishes that incorporate Spanish, Asian and Puerto Rican influences.

The menu also will offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes, he said, and focus special attention on customer service, Pecora said, adding that he and Mancini have the same ethics when it comes to customer satisfaction.

“If we make a mistake, we admit it,” he said. 

tim@oakpark.com

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