SAUGANASH — The Monastero family's announcement last week that they'd close their eponymous restaurant this year caught regulars of the 55-year institution by surprise — but the move was decades in the making, the owners said.
"We've been running the restaurant a very long time, and we've always been committed to doing it with the same amount of love, hard work and determination as our fathers did," co-owner Maria Giorgia Monastero said. "But for us it was really just a matter of time ... and you can't put any amount of money on that. An opportunity was presented to us, and we just decided it was time."
Monastero's father was one of three siblings who founded La Canopy Pizzeria in 1962, adapting it five years later into the restaurant as it's known today. With its high ceilings and ornate banquet halls, Monastero's has played host to countless community events, weddings and graduation parties over its half-century life.
The family announced Wednesday that they'd accepted an offer from Elim Romanian Pentacostal Church, 4850 N. Bernard St., to buy the property and remodel it into a "church and religious community center" at the end of the year. The restaurant owners have no immediate plans for new projects or ventures after Monastero's serves its last customer Nov. 18, they said.
"After a lot of discussion of what we want to do as a family, we decided this is the way we want to go: on a high, with a full audience," said Maria Elisabeth Monastero, also a co-owner. "It's like going out with a standing ovation."
Maria Elisabeth added it was "fitting" for Monastero's to pass into the hands of a church, predicting that it would "continue the same kind of public service that we've tried to offer over the years."
Although the Albany Park church is a private institution, its leaders are looking forward to establishing root in Sauganash and opening up its community center to neighbors, said the Rev. Cristian Ionescu, the church's senior pastor.
"We have a good, safe community and a lot of programs for young people and children," Ionescu said. "I think we'll gain the respect of our new neighbors."
The move would bring the church into the center of a large Romanian community in Sauganash, with most members of Ionescu's congregation living "less than five minutes" from the restaurant, he said.
The multibuilding complex's large parking lot was another big draw, the pastor added.
The church likely will renovate the property, but construction plans are "not even in the drawing phase" and likely wouldn't be realized until sometime in 2018, Ionescu said.