Born in the village of Galen, Switzerland, Albert Zeller, founder and CEO of Avanti's Ristorante, grew up with eight brothers and sisters, learning the art of cheese making and processing other dairy products. He came to the United States in 1959 and settled in the small town of Walnut, Illinois, and although his command of the English language was sparse, and his funds limited, he put his knowledge of business, as well as his energy and determination, to work.
His career aspirations were briefly interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army.
While in service to his new country, he began developing new ideas for when he returned to civilian life.
The old-world charm of cheese making had served its purpose, and in 1964 a new corporation formed as a manufacturer of frozen pizzas. As manager and part owner of Gino's Pizza, and with only two employees, Albert helped the small business produce 200 pizzas a day. Within fifteen months, those figures increased to 20 employees and 5,000 pizzas a day. That momentum didn't stop there.
In 1966, he purchased Lardano's Italian Restaurant on Main Street in Peoria, adjacent to Bradley University. Soon after, the name was changed to Avanti's, which means "forward" in Italian, and it was full steam ahead.
By now, a keen feel for all phases of the food preparation business was taking shape. And being the pioneer that he is, he forged ahead with yet another restaurant in Normal, Illinois, Avanti's II, an expansion that opened in 1971 with his brother, Guido. Today Avanti's employs around 500 people, with restaurants on Rockwood Road in Peoria (1979) and East Peoria (1985). The original Avanti's location had to give way to Main Street widening and relocated across the street in 1989 at Main and University. Avanti's opened another new location in Peoria on North Knoxville Avenue in 2009, as well as the highly-anticipated Pekin location in 2010. All have met with great acceptance by the public.
Albert married his late wife, Edith Hollenstein, a native of Switzerland, in 1968, and still travels frequently to Switzerland to visit family and friends. He has four children, two sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Stefan, currently is co-owner of the family business.
In 2010, Avanti's also purchased the Avanti's Dome property in Pekin, and that enterprise continues to expand as a premier central Illinois event and sports center.