By Mary Jane Grinstead
It was Valentine’s Day 1992, that Phil and I first went to RoseAngelis. We were new to the neighborhood, having just moved into our home after twelve long months of architect’s drawings, contractor’s fees, and construction that nearly wore us into the ground. Frankly, there isn’t much romance in building a house in Chicago, and we were looking to get back on track.
RoseAngelis had just opened. The restaurant has always been in the same building, an old brick kind of shotgun house. At first, there were maybe a dozen small tables, twos and fours, in the first couple of rooms at the front of the building.
Friends had decorated the walls with fresco-like paintings. The cooking kitchen was (and still is) about the size of the walk-in closets we had built in our new master bedroom connected by a giant gas stove.
The owner and chef, Lawrence Rosenblum, an attorney left the practice of law to become a restaurateur, greeted us from his “kitchen window,” the opening where the food was and still is passed from the kitchen to waiters.
We had a wonderful evening that February 14, 1992. The food was delicious and the service was better than great. Phil and I have been going to RoseAngelis ever since. Spinach pasta, roasted pine nuts, and Larry’s special caramel sauce were cornerstone ingredients in the early nineties and still are today.
Fast forward eighteen years. Today in the summer, RoseAngelis seats well over a hundred guests. There are four dining rooms, a covered patio, and the front room contains a bar and waiting area.
The delicious food and fantastic service haven’t changed. Larry is a better cook than ever and still greets his guests through that same “kitchen widow” between the closet-sized kitchen with its humongous gas stove and what is now one of the dining rooms.
I asked Larry recently how things were going, given the horrible economic year we’ve just gone through. “Business is a little down,” he said and grinned. “Pine nuts have gone to over $20 a pound, and I didn’t pay myself much this year. But we haven’t had to lay anyone off, and our customers keep coming back and telling their friends.”
There’s a correlation here between the continued sustainability of RoseAngelis, Larry’s satisfied repeat and new customers, and the restaurant’s competent and considerate staff.
At a time when there are CLOSED signs on the doors of lots of individually owned businesses on the north side of Chicago, RoseAngelis has a steady stream of customers every night, even during the week. On the weekends, you still might have to wait a bit, but we happen to think that’s a good thing. Who wants to eat in an empty restaurant?
The people who work at RoseAngelis help everyone who comes through the door feel welcome, appreciated, and special. The servers know the menu. The bus people never let a water glass sit empty or a dirty plate stay on the table too long. They enthusiastically bring more bread and coffee and grate all the fresh Parmesan cheese you want.
They remember that my husband likes salt and always bring him his own shaker and gladly pack up our uneaten portions for tomorrow’s lunch (and believe me the servings are so generous at RoseAngelis, there’s always something to take home).
No one will ever rush you through a meal or seem anxious to turn your table. Every member of the staff knows his or her job and does it well. And if something needs doing that isn’t somebody’s job, they do it anyway. There is very little employee turnover, especially for an eating establishment.
Hands down, these are nice people who work at RoseAngelis. They are ethical and they clearly care about doing a job well done. They treat couples special on Valentine’s Day.
But running a successful restaurant isn’t about romance; it’s about the bottom line.
I put a pencil to paper to figure out the approximate economic value of repeat customers like Phil and me to a neighborhood restaurant like RoseAngelis.
We eat there at least once or twice a month. That’s around 650 meals since 1992. At least half the time we go with friends, so add another 325 meals. RoseAngelis’ prices are modest, so let’s assume that those 975 meals cost $16 before beverages, gratuity, or tax. That’s more than $15,000 in revenue from our repeat business—without considering the repeat business of our friends or the friends they bring.
In fact, research from Harvard reports that if a restaurant increases repeat visits by 5 percent, profits can increase anywhere from 25 to 125 percent.
While I in no way feel that Larry or any of the staff at RoseAngelis thinks of Phil and me in those terms, it wouldn’t bother me one bit if they did. Why? Because RoseAngelis is a terrific romantic place to take your honey for Valentine’s Day or, for that matter, on any other day. It has special meaning and memories for us, and we want Larry and his team to stay in business for a very long time.
So, if you are in RoseAngelis on the 14th, look for us. We’ll be there at our regular Valentine’s Day spot eating green noodles and bread pudding with the best caramel sauce in Chicago—maybe the world.