After 21 years making Philly cheesesteaks, Emilio Musa is a master with spatulas on his flat-top grill.
But when Musa, who runs Emilio's Philly cheesesteak in Elmhurst, takes off the apron and goes home, he largely leaves the kitchen duties to others.
"He doesn't cook at home," his wife, Malak Musa, said with a grin.
"If I wanna eat by myself, I'll make eggs," Emilio Musa said. "I married this beautiful lady and she has taken care of me for 23, 24 years now."
Emilio is quick to laugh and easy to talk to, a skill honed by a lifetime of speaking to customers. The husband-and-wife team run their restaurant together with help from their daughters Christina, Claudia and Katherine -- when the girls can find the time.
Christina graduated from college last year and Emilio Musa said his goal is to see that Claudia and Katherine graduate, too.
"Nothing is guaranteed in any kind of retail business," Emilio said. "What guarantees your security is your degree. That's your power, you know?"
Emilio knows all about the ups and downs of the restaurant business. He was born in Jordan, a nation of around 9.5 million people in the Middle East that borders Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Syria.
In 1973, when he was 13, his father brought his whole family to Cincinnati where his dad had opened a restaurant.
Emilio said his father's first business was successful enough to convince him to buy a second. But when that move didn't pan out, his father decided to move the family to Chicago in 1978.
Emilio made his first Philly cheesesteak in 1996 when he began running a Steak Escape restaurant franchise at Ford City Mall in Chicago's West Lawn neighborhood. He split his time managing the business, manning the grill and chatting up customers for 20 years.
When the lease expired last year, he decided to strike out on his own in the suburbs.
At his restaurant in Elmhurst, which opened in July, Emilio grills up 10 different variations on the traditional Philly cheesesteak along with local favorites such as gyros, Italian beefs and hot dogs.
Emilio's is at 623 W. North Ave., near the intersection of North Avenue and Route 83. For more information, visit emiliosphilly.com.