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Born the son of an Essen merchant, into a Protestant family of Italian origin (his ancestors came from Valtellina, from which they fled due to religious persecutions), he took over his father's enterprise and expanded the range of trade, becoming an influential businessman. Grillo was a board member and founder of several mining companies.
Friedrich Grillo and, after his death, his widow Wilhelmine Grillo donated the property and two thirds of the construction costs of the Grillo-Theater which opened in Essen in 1892.