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Why Is Cathy Morelli An Everyday Hero?

by Nolan Hawk

Very few people are aware that Cathy Morelli helped save the environment by focusing on the negative impact of a little white cup.

Cathy Morelli and her husband Jerry run Augustino’s Rock & Roll Deli in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. 

They’re locally renowned for irresistible Italian subs and tantalizing Italian ice, but most of their customers are completely unaware of the national impact that they’ve had on the environment. 

A Brief History Of Augustino’s Rock And Roll Deli

Augustino’s started out as an Italian grocery store and deli run by Jerry’s parents, Augie and Phylis, when they opened their doors in Carol Stream in 1978.

When Jerry joined the family business, they began selling specialty hot sandwiches like hand-rolled meatball sandwiches and thinly sliced iconic Italian beef, using family recipes handed down by generations.

They officially got out of the grocery game when they realized customers were lining up for hot sandwiches and their iconic Italian sub, while shelf stable items were gathering dust. 

In the late 1980’s Jerry and Augie found the perfect spot in Carol Stream, Illinois, to open up Augustino’s Rock And Roll Deli, which featured museum quality memorabilia from famous acts in the 1950’s and 1960’s. 

They fashioned the front face of the restaurant to look like a giant jukebox, which has been coined “the mothership,” as it illuminates with neon lights at night.

Cathy Joins The Mothership At Augustino’s Rock And Roll Deli

When Cathy married Jerry, she knew that Augustino’s was the central focus of his family’s existence, and committed to beautifully raising their four daughters while he worked demanding hours at the restaurant. 

With the success of the mothership, Augustino’s Rock & Roll Deli added two more locations,  one in downtown Chicago and another in nearby West Chicago.

Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli West Chicago

When their children grew up, Cathy joined Jerry in running the businesses, which was his dream scenario, because she was able to take over areas that detract from day-to-day operations, like human resources, marketing, catering, and tech support. 

Jerry believes she’s the glue that holds the company together. “It takes some of the pressure off me, she handles some stuff when she’s here that I don’t have to handle,” he remarked. 

“She brings a lot of energy to the shift. I concentrate on quality, and everything has to be a certain way, so maybe I’m not as fun to work with as she is,” he explained. “She’ll get talking to the kids… I think they love when she’s here, it just makes it a little more fun.”

How One Little Cup Changed The World

Cathy’s presence at Augustino’s has certainly made a difference to Jerry and their staff, but few people are aware of the effect it had on the nation.

A little known fact about Cathy Morelli is that she is integral to ushering in an era of eco-friendly practices in restaurants, and led the charge more than 15 years before conservationists and lawmakers recognized the industry was problematic. 

Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli Cathy with styrofoam cup

Cathy can pinpoint the day her life changed and it all came down to a little white cup in 2007, when a customer at their downtown Chicago location had a hard time deciding between water and… water. 

When Cathy took the woman’s order, she asked if she wanted a bottle or tap water. When the woman chose the tap, Cathy returned with a Styrofoam cup and the customer agonized over the water’s receptacle. 

The woman said that tap water was free, but worried about the environmental impact of the Styrofoam cup, because “they don’t go anywhere.”

Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli 107

Cathy was “fascinated” by the woman’s dilemma and investigated why Styrofoam cups were bad for the environment. 

“When I did the math we were going through 10,000 cups of free water per location, per month,” she determined. 

“Then I looked at the fact that we were choosing a Styrofoam cup… That was 30,000 Styrofoam cups going into the earth, and then I learned they don’t go anywhere for 500 years.” 

Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli compostable cup on counter

Cathy decided that if Augustiono’s was going to but using that many cups, they should use a “healthier” one for the planet and got to researching. 

She found that her local distributor alternatively offered paper cups, which were lined with harmful petrochemicals, so she searched the nation for a better option. 

Cathy was able to find the perfect cup made by a company in Colorado, which produced cups constructed out of corn byproducts, which makes them 100% compostable. 

Compostable Cups Go National

Due to Augustino’s high volume orders of cups on a monthly basis, Cathy was able to convince one of the nation’s largest restaurant distributors, Sysco Foods, to carry the brand.

She didn’t stop there… Cutting Styrofoam cups from the menu was just the beginning.  “If we were going to make a commitment to a cup, we’re not going to stop at a cup,” Cathy stated.

Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli 108

They replaced all of their Styrofoam plates, containers, and even eating utensils with eco-friendly alternatives, which caused Sysco Foods to offer the Earth saving brands to restaurants and retailers nationwide. 

Years later, lawmakers have finally gotten onboard with the movement Cathy helped pioneer 15 years ago.

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Styrofoam use in restaurants is now banned in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C. 

In Augustino’s home state Illinois, a recently passed law to ban single use to-go food containers and utensils will go into effect in January 2024, and it all started with a little white cup. 

Augustino’s Rock & Roll Deli Resources

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Learn MORE about the story of the Little White Cup.

Visit the Augustino’s Rock & Roll Deli WEBSITE.

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