Cemeno's Pizza Continues To Thrive In Joliet In 48th Year: Photos

January 20, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

JOLIET, IL — At a time when several Plainfield and Joliet area bars and restaurants are shutting down, one of Joliet’s longest operating restaurants is counting its blessings because business is booming. Sue Schultz, her sister Natalie Cemeno and their brother Michael operate Cemeno’s Pizza at 1630 Essington Road. Their restaurant has stood the test of time, remaining one of Joliet’s preferred locations when it comes to a family outing.

Cemeno’s Pizza has achieved 2,065 Google Reviews, averaging 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. Historically, November and December are the two busieset months for Cemeno’s Pizza because the restaurant becomes a gathering point for families and friends to celebrate the holidays.

“Over Christmas, it was insanity,” Schultz said during Thursday’s interview. “We probably had anywhere from 15 to 20 bookings per night. If we have openings, we will find room.”

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Cemeno’s Pizza has five separate rooms within the restaurant that can be used for private gatherings for families, friends or business groups.

However, when it comes to high school and college graduations, Cemeno’s is already taking reservations.

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“We are already booking for May and June,” she said.

Schultz said she and her brother strongly believe in their late father Joe’s attitude of giving back to the community. Cemeno’s selects a different school every month to give 10 percent in sales to the school.

This month’s choice is Grand Prairie Elementary on Caton Farm Road, Schultz explained.

“It’s a win-win because people come out, and they support their school,” Schultz said. “And I love now Terry D’Arcy being our mayor of Joliet. For him, it’s all about the community, 100 percent, and giving back. If we all prosper, we give back and pay it forward.”

Schultz said one of the key reasons for Cemeno’s success is the staff’s longevity.

“Literally, we have the best staff ever. I can’t even remember the last time anybody left. Through the years, we’ve employed everybody. Half of the city of Joliet has worked here.”

While the Cemeno’s menu offers a lot of variety, there is one thing on the menu that sells more than the rest.

“It’s always the pizzas,” she remaked. “But we have really good sandwiches and pastas. Our catering over Christmas, we had 90 preorders before we opened the door on Christmas Eve.”

In a typical week, Cemeno’s Pizza probably makes 400 to 500 pizzas, she said.

For non-traditional pizzas, Cemeno’s offers a spinach calabrese pizza and a beef calabrese pizza. The rest of the long list of specialty pizzas includes: Muffaletta, Reuben, Hawaiian, Taco, BBQ Chicken, Three Cheese, the Cemeno’s Special and the Italian Deli.

You can also build your pizza, going with thin crust, thick crust, Gluten free or deep dish. Pizzas range in size from 6 inches to 18 inches for the fiesta.

On the sweet side, Cemeno’s makes its own desserts, specializing in a wide variety of cheesecakes and cakes for birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.

As for some of the lesser-known, but great-tasting options other than pizza, “Our chicken sandwich is pretty good because we marinate the chicken. In ordering the chicken, I tend to go toward higher end. It’s gotta pass by me,” Schultz said.

Cemeno’s menu lists an entire page of sandwiches.

There’s Italian beef, Italian sausage, Italian meatball, garlic poorboy, coach burger, chicken Florentine, chicken Bruschetta, chicken cheddar bacon and Italian marinated chicken sandwich — and plenty more.

On the appetizer side, Cemeno’s considers its nachos one of its customer staples.

“I think we have really good nachos,” Schultz remarked.

And if you’re not in the mood for pizza or sandwiches, Cemeno’s Pizza offers several pastas including ravioli, baked mostaccioli, baked pesto alfredo, lasagna and a spaghetti or mostaccioli. The pastas include a dinner salad or a cup of Sue’s homemade soup and one breadstick.

For the most part, Cemeno’s has not tinkered with its menu much in recent years.

“You have to stay focused on what your market is,” Schultz explained. “We’re not a bar serving food. We’re a restaurant with a bar, but the bar does well.”
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The goal for Schultz and her staff is to create a place where people love to come and come back.

At the moment, Cemeno’s has 86 employees.

“We give them the environment to flourish,” Schultz said. “We’re two years away from our 50th anniversary, 2026, that’s something. I cannot say enough about my staff. When we make money, they make money and we give bonuses, and they have a nice, stable environment and everybody gets along.”

Another draw for crowds, according to Schultz, are the appetizers. She said the Cemeno’s onion rings are good, but she admits her favorite ones are made at another legendary restaurant, Merichka’s in Crest Hill, which just marked its 90th anniversary last spring.

As for other popular appetizers besides the nachos and onion rings, Cemeno’s serves pretzel sticks with cheese, mac ‘n cheese bites, fried zucchini, mozzarella sticks, cheddar nuggets, fried mushrooms and fried pickles. And there’s also chicken chunks, by the pound or half pound.

When it comes to all of their food, “if it can be homemade, it’s homemade,” Schultz said.

In recent months, in an effort to get more families into their dining room during weeknights, Cemeno’s started offering a $29.99 Family Night special on Tuesdays only. For $29.99, customers get a large one topping pizza, breadsticks and a pitcher of pop.

As for the bar, known as Joe’s Dugout, Cemeno’s continues to offer daily drink specials and $7 appetizers during the football season on nights with NFL games, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.

In this day and age with so many national chain pizza places scattered throughout the Joliet region, the Cemeno’s dining room maintains its staying power.

Thousands of people continue to patronize the Essington Road location every month.

“Everybody is different. My dad always said competition is a really good thing. He said people have to have options. We know everybody and we just have really good people that come here and keep coming back,” Schultz said.

Schultz said there are no plans to leave from 1630 Essington Road. Cemeno’s has been at its Essington Road restaurant location for more than 20 decades now. “We’re close to everything and everything is really close to get to. I love Joliet. Joliet is like the biggest Mayberry in the world.”

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