A native of Venice, Italy, Dario Monni and Chicago-born wife Jill Gray are announcing plans to open Tortello, a classic family-owned pastificio (fresh pasta shop) and casual dining experience, in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood this summer.
Located near the bustling intersection of Division and Wood Streets, Tortello is the debut concept by Monni, who has an extensive background operating world-class food and beverage programs throughout Italy, London, and Dubai.
Inspired by the classic pastificio found in many Italian towns, Tortello will boast a handmade pasta program where sfoglinas (pasta makers)—trained by a 65-year-old sfoglina from Puglia, Italy—can be seen crafting a variety of daily fresh “nonna-style" pasta by hand as guests dine. An open kitchen will provide a firsthand glimpse of Italian culinary artistry taking place while a showpiece pasta-making station set behind a large storefront window will give passersby a playful view into the heart of Tortello’s “made with love” pasta shop.
Additionally, Monni will sell Tortello’s signature fresh pasta and sauces to cook at home, as well as a small but expertly-curated assortment of artisanal Italian imports for retail sale. The daily rotating counter service selection of handmade pasta creations served in the stylish café will be complemented by all the staples of the Italian piazza—a simple array of Italian cocktails, wine and beer, authentic espresso drinks and pastries. With the goal of recreating the unique rituals, pristine ingredients and the craftsmanship that is found throughout Italy, Tortello is the manifestation of Monni’s lifelong aspiration to carry on the rich culinary traditions of his family and home country.
“I always knew I wanted to open a family-focused spot that’s simple, authentic and real. In Italy, food is prepared by hand with a lot of love and has an amazing way of uniting friends, family and even strangers. Italians say ‘fare una spaghettata’ when we want a meal of pasta to bring people together, and I’m thrilled to recreate this concept for the people of Chicago at Tortello with my own family in Wicker Park,” says Monni.
The Story of Torello: The origin of Tortello stemmed from Monni’s childhood, which was split between his city-dwelling mother’s side of the family in Venice and the rural lifestyle of his father’s relatives on the island of Sardinia. Monni’s Venetian grandfather owned a specialty food shop, known for having the very best products from all over Italy.
The shop was the source of ingredients of his Nonna's long Saturday lunches, which always included a homemade pasta. From his Sardinian family, who worked as shepherds, cheesemongers, and butchers, Monni gained an appreciation for farm-to-table cooking and the unique flavor profiles of the island.
Like his grandfathers before him, Monni soon developed a strong business acumen and a great respect for honest, natural ingredients, sparking his vision of opening a small, family-operated pasta shop of his own. His passion for Italy’s revered cuisine and its culture of family-focused hospitality will come to life in Tortello, a welcoming space where Chicagoans can taste and experience the country’s treasured culinary customs.
Design Preview: Monni and Gray have commissioned top local firm Siren Betty Design, the team behind the eye-catching designs of other local businesses including Giant, Quiote and Passion House Coffee Roasters, to transform the former space (located at 1746 W. Division) into the couple’s vision. Once complete, Tortello will complement traditional Italian craft with a modern open space that uses storytelling accents such as a vintage but functioning 1930s Toledo food scale exactly like one used in Monni’s grandfather’s shop. Currently undergoing construction, the interior will offer family-friendly seating for under 40 people while the patio will bring the feel of an Italian piazza to Division street this summer.
Tortello will be open for lunch and dinner service 7 days a week. More information will be available soon.
About Co-Owners Dario Monni and Jill Gray: Born and raised in Italy, Dario Monni has been steeped in the rich food culture of Italy from an early age. In his hometown of Venice, Monni learned the art of preparing handmade pasta from his “nonna” while listening to stories of his grandfather’s specialty foods store. His summers were spent with relatives on his father’s side in rural Sardinia, where his family worked as shepherds, cheesemongers and butchers, imparting onto him the deep-rooted value of the region’s unique rituals, pristine ingredients and simple dedication to an authentic craft.
These early experiences fueled Monni’s passion for Italy’s revered cuisine and the culture of family-focused hospitality, inspiring him to pursue a career in the food and beverage industry. After obtaining a degree from Instituto Alberghiero Giuseppe Maffioli, one of Italy’s most respected culinary institutions, Monni left Venice for London at age 18 where he further pursued work within the city’s world-class mixology scene. With a keen eye for detail, he excelled behind the bar and held positions at some of the world’s most famed establishments such as Harry’s Bar, Gritti Palace, Cipriani, and Soho’s LAB.
In 2009, Monni departed London and spent the next nine years traveling the globe, helming the beverage programs of top luxury restaurants and nightclubs in Dubai, Montreal and more. In 2012, Monni returned to London and landed at acclaimed Italian restaurant L’Anima where he worked alongside celebrity chef Francesco Mazzei, initially leading the bar program of the award-winning concept and quickly advancing to oversee front of house operations. During this time, Monni met his future wife Jill Gray, a native Chicagoan, and the two spent several years together in London. Named one of Business Insider’s “Top 30 Women in Advertising” in 2015, Gray has gathered extensive experience in marketing and advertising, leading award-winning consumer brand campaigns at agencies such as Leo Burnett and Publicis. She then moved to Facebook where she spent five years, and now heads up creative operations at a creative tech startup called VidMob.
A desire to be closer to family led Monni and Gray to relocate to her Midwestern hometown in 2016, where the couple set about starting their own family and bringing his lifelong vision of owning family-run pastificio (pasta shop) and restaurant to fruition.
With the 2019 opening of Tortello, a charming neighborhood eatery offering a rotating menu of fresh, handmade pasta alongside a small but expertly curated selection of artisanal Italian goods, the husband and wife team is transporting Italy’s emphasis on simplicity through rich culinary and cultural traditions to Chicago. As the restaurant’s co-owners, Monni and Gray are committed to continuing his family’s legacy of cultivating fresh, honest ingredients, upholding time-honored rituals and preserving the treasured craft of handmade pasta making.
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