Since an early age, Joe Evola has been making hand-tossed pizzas, first at his father’s business in Ottawa as a young boy and later, starting in 1975, at Sam’s Pizza in Marseilles.
To celebrate his many decades of cooking food along with providing service and support to the community, Evola, 65, will be honored as the Marseilles Fun Days parade marshal Sunday, July 15.
“When I was first told of the selection, I was ecstatic,” Evola said. “I still am. To be honored and recognized for my life here by the community after 43 years in business is wonderful. My family and I am very grateful. This means a lot to us.”
Chosen as parade marshal by the Illinois River Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, its administrative assistant, Michelle Klock, said Evola was a worthy choice.
Klock called Evola one of the community’s “stellar” citizens and she said he has been a tremendous asset for Marseilles for more than 40 years.
“Joe is Marseilles,” said Klock, smiling. “He not only has had a long, successful business here, but he and his family also works and donates to the community behind the scenes. He is well loved and the online response to his selection as our 2018 parade marshal has been nothing short of amazing. Joe’s the cheese on top of the pizza of Marseilles. This honor is well deserved and long overdue.”
Reflecting on his life, Evola explained he was born in Chicago in 1952, only two years before his father, Salvator Evola, moved to and opened a pizza restaurant in Ottawa.
“I help my dad with his business while I was in school here and during my years at Illinois State University,” he said.
Evola graduated from Ottawa High School in 1971 and received a history of political science degree from Illinois State University in 1974. The following year, he moved to Marseilles to open his own pizza place, where he was also a popular substitute teacher for both Ottawa and Marseilles schools from 1976 to 1990.
“We’ve been in the same spot (240 Washington St.) since we’ve opened,” Evola said. “In those many years, we have employed dozens of local young people for deliveries and such.”
With the help of his wife, Caterina, and two of their four children, Salvatore and Angela, the pizzeria opens at 4 p.m. seven days a week.
“This place, this town is my life,” Evola said. “My dad taught me to live and enjoy a simple life. He always said if you are happy and you have a good job, you are in the right place.”
Evola described Marseilles as a “nice, quiet, friendly town.”
He credits his business success to cooking quality, hand-tossed pizzas and providing customers with some culinary entertainment while doing it.
“They come to watch the show — my spinning dough into the air,” he said. “And I’m more than happy to do it for them.”
Evola said he estimates his business has made an average of about 300 pizzas per week.
“After 43 years, you do the math,” he said and laughed. “I’ll have no plans to retire and I have no hobbies. This town, this business, is my home, and I’ll be here until the end.”
During Sunday’s parade, Evola said he expects a lot of people to shout, “Hey, Joe. Where’s the pizza?” as he passes by.
“It will be great fun and, after the parade’s over, I’ll be right back here in the restaurant spinning dough and making pizzas,” he promised. “We open every day at 4 p.m. and most days, you can find me here. Come by and see the show.”
Lineup for the Fun Days Parade begins at 11 a.m. Sunday at Marseilles School, 201 Chicago St. The procession, featuring more than 40 entries, is scheduled to begin at noon along Broadway Street, moving down to Commercial Street and ending at the Marseilles baseball fields.