Photo: ©Kenosha County Historical Society, Inc. 

Drive through Kenosha—the city hugging Lake Michigan’s shoreline just over the Wisconsin-Illinois border—and it quickly becomes apparent that this is a place with deep Italian culture and heritage. Business signs depict Italian last names. Cannoli, pizza, pasta, deli lunches and more are edible ways to experience this history on a visit today.

About 12 percent of Kenosha residents are Italian, according to the 2000 census, which is the highest concentration of any Wisconsin city. This is surprising to most people because when you think of pockets of Italian residents, it’s typically in Boston and New York City (where restaurants rim the Lower East Side Street in Manhattan) where Italian-centric neighborhoods are located, catering to tourists with shops, bakeries, grocers and restaurants.

The Italian-American Society of Kenosha, founded in 1923, has worked tirelessly to promote Italian culture while providing a meeting place for Italians, or those interested in learning more about Italy. Dinner is served to the public at its clubhouse Wednesday through Sunday, including a Friday fish fry.

If you’re looking to experience the city’s “taste of Italy,” and have a limited amount of time, a stop at Tenuta’s Deli on 52nd Street is a must, a few blocks from the Italian-American Society of Kenosha’s headquarters. During the summer months, on Saturdays outside of the building, a keyboard player performs Italian songs, making you feel like you’re in Naples or Sicily. Grab a brat or sandwich from the kitchen window, or sneak inside for cannoli.

What brought most Italians to Kenosha— from mostly southern Italy, especially Sicily and Calabria—were factory jobs during the late 1800s. At that time, jobs were available at companies such as Jockey (an undergarment company still in business today, formerly called Cooper Underwear Company) and Nash Motors Company (later absorbed into American Motors Corporation and then Chrysler). Many settled in the Columbus Park neighborhood of Kenosha.

With that migration came a need for food that reminded these Italians of their home country. Businesses that are still operating today include the aforementioned Tenuta’s Deli, with its robust liquor section, private label line of sauces and pastas, and a hearty deli that includes takeout sandwiches, meatballs, pastas and pizzas you can heat up at home. Just wandering the aisles transports you to somewhere far away from Kenosha—perhaps the glittering seashore in Sicily?

Pizza places, of course, popped up around town. While, over the years, some have ceased their operations, today you can order more than a pizza at the following places, which are owned by Italian families: Infusino’s Pizzeria, which flaunts Southern Italian dishes for lunch and dinner; Villa d’Carlo, open since 1957 across the street from the lakefront in downtown Kenosha; and Casa Capri, a fine-dining restaurant in west Kenosha.

Blast From the Past

Holy Rosary Church is located on the northwest corner of the intersection of 22nd Avenue and 45th Street in Kenosha. The plans for the building were secured from Verona, Italy. The church seats 600 people, contains five altars, has wainscoting of Cararra and Georgian marble, and was dedicated on August 14, 1932. The Holy Rosary congregation dates from 1904, when a group of Italian Catholics formed a parish organization and began planning the building of a church.

Eating Italian

Hungry for a taste of Italian cuisine in Wisconsin? There’s no better place than Kenosha to sample delights like cannoli, Genetti and Anginetti cookies, loaves of bread, muffaletta and sweet specialty cakes.

Cardinali’s Bakery

Since 1915, this bakery next to the Italian-American Club has been in the hands of the Cardinali family. Fourth-generation family member Michael Cardinali is currently at the helm, prepping his son to become the fifth-generation owner one day. Pick up doughnuts, signature Italian treats, loaves of bread, cookies and cakes.

Paielli’s Bakery

Since 1923, this Italian bakery— currently in its third location and run by the fourth generation of the Paielli family—has specialized in sweet treats like cannoli and Genetti but also loaves of Italian bread. Specialty cakes are truly original and inspired by American treats, such as the Snickers Candy Bar Cake and Andes Candies Cake.

Tenuta’s Deli

Open since 1950, and now in its third generation within the Tenuta family, this Italian deli retails all that you need for an Italian picnic or to stock your pantry with Italian delicacies, from private-label sauces and pastas to wine and a deli that rivals the best in town.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer who calls Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood home.

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