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Dishing up a spicy tradition

Chili John's zesty family takes the heat to stay in the kitchen for father's sake.

June 18, 2011|By Cassandra M. Bellantoni
  • Debbie LoGuercio, from left, prepares a couple slices of their famous lemon pie while Kelly Volpe, 7, also helps out and Mary Dakan and Kelly's brother, Gavin, 7, hang out in the back kitchen of Chili John's in Burbank on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. LoGuercio has owned the restaurant since 1990. Chili John's opened 65 years ago and has gone through three owners. Within the last 20 years, chicken, vegetarian and three types of chili have been added on to the original menu. Originally the menu only had beef, beans, pasta and lemon pie.
Debbie LoGuercio, from left, prepares a couple slices… (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

The Loguercio family has seen good times and bad from behind the 24-seat counter at Chili John’s in Burbank since 1990. They say they are better people for the experience, but with rising food costs and the loss of a patriarch, the family faces a big decision deadline that has come and gone.

Debra Loguercio and her 22-year old son, Alec Loguercio, have been working full time keeping the burners lit for several years since the real passion behind Chili John’s, Debra’s husband, Gene Loguercio, became ill and lost a tough battle with pancreatic cancer.

The mother-and-son team promised Gene as his health was failing that they would run the restaurant for two years before deciding whether to keep it, and the two-year anniversary of Gene’s death was April 13.

Debra Loguercio said she is grateful that Chili John’s supported their whole extended family since 1990, and another family 45 years before that.

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“Oh, I’m not ready to go there yet, but it wouldn’t be a matter of selling it. We would decide which family member would take it,” she said, but admitted it would be hard to say goodbye after all the wonderful memories of working with her husband and her mother-in-law while watching her children develop in one of the oldest restaurants in Burbank.

“Dad getting cancer forced Alec to grow up,” said Alec’s 27-year-old brother, Anthony Logurecio, who works full time as an aeronautic welder for Gardner Bellos. “There was nobody else to step up and fill Dad’s big shoes. This isn’t a simple 9-to-5 job — the restaurant has a way of showing you what kind of person you are.”

Alec Loguercio, who has worked in the restaurant since he was 15, was forced to drop out of college and take over the cooking and business operations of Chili John’s when his father became ill.

“It was kind of like going to two colleges, Alec said as he carefully measured the ingredients for the chili, using the same recipe his father taught him. “Spending time here on Saturdays in the business environment made me a better person. I had to get over being shy. I remember when I was young, Dad used to drag me out in front to talk to the old-timers — it developed my personality, giving me more confidence.”

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