Restaurant owner celebrated as Harvest Festival parade grand marshal


Fred Yarusso, owner and operator of Yarusso Bros. Italian restaurant at 635 Payne Avenue, is this year’s Payne-Arcade Harvest Festival grand marshal. photo Marjorie Otto/Review

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Ask anyone on the East Side and they’ll describe Fred Yarusso as kind, humble and a family man. 

When asked what it means to be this year’s Payne-Arcade Harvest Festival parade grand marshal, Yarusso said it was an honor, but then went on to list other East Side neighbors and business owners who he thought should have the position before him.

Yarusso was nominated by friend and fellow business owner Dan Day, who owns Porky’s Bar at 1080 Payne Avenue. 

“He’s a great guy and deserves the best of everything,” said Day, adding he was surprised Yarusso finally accepted, as he’s been asked many times in the past. Last year he was named “Business Man of the Year” by the Payne-Arcade Business Association.

Yarusso runs and owns Yarusso Bros., the third-generation Italian eatery that’s an integral part of the East Side’s identity. Ask a non-East Sider about the neighborhood and it’s often one of the first things they’ll mention. The restaurant is located at 635 Payne Ave.

Yarusso describes himself as a quiet man, adding that people may be surprised to hear that. During a recent interview, Yarusso welcomed and addressed every customer who came into the restaurant by their first name. 

He shares ownership of the business with his brother, Mike. They ran it together for years, but after Mike had a serious medical incident more than 10 years ago, Yarusso took on more front-of-the house work even though he prefers back-of-house work like cooking. 

The two brothers are the third generation to run the restaurant — it was started in 1933 by their grandfather Francesco Yarusso, who immigrated from Italy when he was 18. Like many East Side families, the Yarusso story started in Swede Hollow, where the family lived before opening the tavern that would later become the restaurant known today.

Yarusso said the eatery was mostly a working-class saloon with food for much of the early 20th century — workers from nearby factories would come and cash their checks while grabbing a drink after their shift.  

For Yarusso, the restaurant is all that he’s known. He started working there as a busboy at the age of 12 — now he’s 67.

“There’s a lot of good memories here,” he said looking around the restaurant, with its walls full of pictures of friends and family, as well as a mural of the Swede Hollow shanties.

 

An East Side foundation

Anne Dejoy, secretary of the Payne-Arcade Business Association board, said that when the association offered Yarusso the usual convertible ride in the parade that comes with being grand marshal, he turned it down. 

He said he wanted to use his own car, but most importantly, he wanted to have his grandchildren with him in the parade.

“It just speaks to his character,” said Dejoy. “He’s a very family-oriented man; he’s very close and loving to his grandchildren.”

Dejoy said there were many reasons to have Yarusso as this year’s grand marshall, one of them being to celebrate the restaurant’s longevity. 

“While it’s important to recruit new businesses, it’s important not to forget the older ones” said Dejoy, adding that Yarusso Bros. has stuck with the East Side through thick and thin.  

She said the restaurant has thrived during flush times and survived during lean times, the most recent being the Great Recession of the late 2000s. 

“He navigated rough waters during the recession and that’s something he should be proud of,” Dejoy said. 

She said his ability to navigate obstacles — whether tough economics or family crisis — is admirable and highlights the values the business association tries to promote throughout the community.  

Yarusso also looks out for the community, she said, by hiring locally and staying involved in civic matters, like when the city planned for major road construction along Payne Avenue between Beaumont and East Seventh streets where the restaurant is located.

“Fred is humble guy and he is loved by thousands of people” said Dejoy. “I think it just comes natural [to him] to be a nice, regular, genuine guy.”

Yarusso will be featured in the Payne-Arcade Harvest Festival parade, which begins at noon on Saturday, Sept. 22. The parade will start near the Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave., and travel south on Payne.

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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