A lifelong Southland resident and longtime restaurateur is being remembered for his generosity, passion for food and love of family.
Michael A. Galderio, 69, of Frankfort, died Dec. 29, after being diagnosed in 2020 with cancer. Hundreds of comments have been posted on social media since the funeral home posted Tuesday about his services, with longtime friends, customers and employees highlighting how nice he was and his generosity.
Galderio’s attachments to people are what helped cement him as a “true-blue South Sider, all in” who never thought about leaving the area, said Nicole Kavouris, his wife of 14 years.
“Those lifelong relationships were so important to him,” Kavouris said. “He valued that so much.”
Galderio grew up in an area of Chicago Heights known as “Hungry Hill,” at the time home to many Italian immigrants, and attended Bloom High School. He maintained lifelong relationships with multiple generations of family and friends connected to that neighborhood, Kavouris said.
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “He’s serving great-grandchildren of the grandparents’ friends that lived next door. He has hosted them in good times and bad times. He’s just woven into the fabric of so many families that started on The Hill.”
Galderio got his start in the restaurant business working as a bartender at Alf’s Pub in Dolton. He was a partner at The Tender Trap in Chicago Heights from 1982 to 1990. Family and friends got behind Galderio’s work in restaurants, helping to launch and later to support his rise in the business, Kavouris said.
“There were opportunities for a kid from The Hill,” she said. “He was so observant and so eager to be successful that he just made it happen. The restaurants were that avenue.”
He was a partner in Matteson’s Ciao Ristorante from the early to mid-90s. He also owned and operated M&M Paving in the 1990s.
In 1997, he opened Homewood’s Balagio on Ridge Road and Martin Avenue. In 2008, he moved it to 175th Street and Dixie Highway, where it remains. Galderio said at the time he wanted to stay in Homewood because the village had been good to his business, but he recognized 95% of his customers would drive to the restaurant, so he left the downtown.
“It was a big decision, because we were part of that downtown Homewood foot traffic, which was so important to that area,” Kavouris said.
Galderio had Balagio locations in Frankfort and Westmont in the early 2000s. And in 2017, he opened Balagio of Mokena, which remains at 9716 W. 191st St.
Mokena Mayor Frank Fleischer said while Balagio has only been in the village a few years, he remembers Galderio as someone who would research and craft compelling arguments to go after the things he wanted in business.
“He had a very nice restaurant here in Mokena. His outside dining, when he put that together, was probably the nicest one in the area,” Fleischer said. “He put out a good meal, a very good meal. And he was proud of his restaurant. It came too quick, because I didn’t get to know him better.”
Kavouris said Galderio just had good instincts for the restaurant business. In particular, he had an ability to visualize restaurant concepts from nothing.
“It was his thing,” she said. “He would see a space and within a matter of minutes see a fully operational restaurant up and running. He just had that vision.”
Kavouris said he also saw things in his employees, with many remaining “intensely loyal” and working for him for years. He was openly appreciative of the people who worked in his restaurants and was generous when it came to them, she said.
“He knew the importance of maintaining a good staff,” Kavouris said. “And he was particularly supportive of the younger people who worked at Balagio.”
Examples of his generosity included donating meals to the Homewood firehouse after one of the department’s firefighters was killed in the line of duty. He also donated meals to first responders and staff at Silver Cross Hospital during the pandemic, Kavouris said.
“To Mike, food is love,” she said.
Galderio’s son, Michael J., plans to continue operating Balagio.
“He will carry on the tradition of the same delicious Italian food,” Kavouris said. “He will continue the Balagio tradition for generations to come. It’s a family affair.”
Kavouris said when Galderio’s was not working, he tried to take the whole family to baseball, basketball and hockey games. He also loved to play golf and was a member at Lincolnshire Country Club in Crete for years.
“He was amazing,” she said. “He was fun. He was such a great family man.”
Galderio and Kavouris met when he opened Balagio in Homewood. They married in 2008.
“He was the love of my life,” Kavouris said. “We were different, but we understood each other so well. It was just a great love story.”
Galderio’s love for his wife and their shared passion for food took them on trips with friends all around the country to track down highly rated restaurants.
“We would just soak it all in and take in what they were doing great and why it was so beautiful and what the food was like,” she said. “We were foodies together.”
Galderio was the father of Michael (Leah) Galderio and Mia Kavouris; grandfather of Tyler Claire and Viviana Paige Galderio; son of the late Sabina (nee Picchi) and Pasquale Galderio; brother of Patricia Borst, Michelle (Nick) Mrdalj and Patrick Galderio; and uncle to many nieces and nephews.
Memorial visitation is to be held from noon Sunday until a 6 p.m. memorial service at Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home, 530 W. 14th St., Chicago Heights. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked for memorials in Galderio’s name to Alicia’s House, PO Box 1232, Beecher IL, 60401, or www.aliciashouse.org. Kavouris said Galderio knew the family behind Alicia’s House and thought the organization was deserving of donations.
Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.