Jay’s Italian Beef keeps with tradition
Joe Fortuna seasons the beef at Jay's Italian Beef and Sausage in Harwood Heights. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Jay’s Beef and Sausage
Address: 4418 N. Narragansett Ave. in Harwood Heights
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday; 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (708) 867-6733
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:59AM
HARWOOD HEIGHTS — Italian beef sandwiches reign supreme at one of Harwood Heights’ well-know haunts.
Jay’s Italian Beef and Sausage has served its specialty for nearly 40 years, co-owner Jay Fortuna said.
He, along with his parents Justin and Muriel, opened in a little shack of a building.
“My father found the location,” Fortuna said. “I remember the date we opened – April 23, 1976.
At first, Jay’s had no employees, Muriel Fortuna said.
“It was all family,” she said.
In 1991, they built the current restaurant. They since have expanded to Schiller Park and North Avenue in Chicago. And cousins and sons and nephews are pitching in.
Jay’s is a spin-off of her family’s beef stand in Chicago, Muriel Fortuna said.
“It was Margie’s, and it was at Kamerling and Cicero,” she said. “That was years ago.
“Beef sandwiches were 20 cents, and we were the only one in the area.”
Muriel Fortuna still comes into work each day. Justin Fortuna, who also served as a basketball official, died in 2000.
Jay Fortuna continues the tradition of cooking, seasoning, trimming and slicing the beef.
“We still use the family recipe,” he said. “It’s all done in-house.
“When we first started, it was beef, sausage and hot dogs,” he added. “Then we added burgers and chicken.”
Options now include side orders such as pizza puffs, jalapeno poppers and chili.
Available every Friday is the pepper and egg sandwich. During Lent, when practicing Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays, the restaurant can go through “a couple hundred” sandwiches, Fortuna said.
He noted times are getting tough, though, due to rising food costs and taxes.
“But you know what makes my day?” he asked. “When people I haven’t seen in years because they moved away tell me, ‘I just got off the plane and I had to stop here.’
“Or the ones who are leaving town who tell me they need three pounds of beef to take with them. One woman just last week said she was told she had to bring some beef with her.”
Those are the moments that make all the work rewarding, he said.