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May 12, 2010
Uptown's 25th Anniversary
Chapter Two, The Green Period and The Kickapoo Klub
by Ray

staff group

As I left off the newsletter last week I was fresh off a disappointing second in my bid to become the concessionaire at the Starved Rock Lodge. The remodeling at the lodge in 1988, I felt was going to be huge for our local tourist trade. I was approached by the owners of the Starved Rock Marina about leasing their space that overlooks one of the most beautiful spots in all of Illinois. I had been going there for many years especially back in the days when "Sunday Brunch" was a big thing. They would serve hundreds of people every Sunday. I, as well as many people, were of the opinion that the food at that time anywhere in "Starved Rock Land" left something to be desired. I knew the place was out in the boonies but I had thought we had developed a pretty good local reputation and that people would drive for good food with a spectacular view.

Kickapoo Klub dining room
kickapoo dining room

We started this project on February 1st 1989 with the plan of a little less casual menu and a Southwestern theme to go with the Indian heritage of the area. The place had seen better days when we took it over.  With the help of good friend, Gilbert Barratini and his company American Bilco, we completely gutted the entire 4800 square foot upper floor to the studs and rafters.  I finally had an office with windows.

marshaWe opened on May 3rd. I was getting pretty good at opening restaurants by this time and things went so smoothly I was actually able to attend my brothers wedding in North Carolina on memorial day weekend.  In large part due to Marsha Klimek, who with the Kickapoo Klub acquisition, turned into another one of my most valued employees.
We made a profit in our very first month. With all the training and set up costs this is unheard of in our industry. The business we did in June and then July was amazing to me.

Kickapoo Patio in the height of the season.
In July we did almost 3 times the volume that the Uptown did. By the end of the summer I was actually thinking about selling the Uptown. Good thing I didn't move too fast.

Kickapoo Patio during winter. Still a beautiful view.
kickapoo winter deck

When we got to September business was cut in half. October was just okay and then the bottom dropped out. The previous owners closed for all but the most profitable months. I realized that if I was going to hire and retain the great staff we had, I needed to offer them year round employment. This business is hard enough to find professionals, let alone lay them off for 4 months a year. In December and January if we didn't have a party we would be lucky to serve 6 people on a week night. Many nights I would work with 1 or 2 other staff members to save costs.

When the season re-started again it was like opening a new restaurant. This was absolutely the most disconcerting thing to me and I grew to hate it. I said to myself give it 3 years. If you do a good job for that long and nothing happens stop beating your head against the wall. It was during this period that I also started running marathons. If I was working only the day shift I would run out there in the morning from La Salle and run back in the evening. This is how I kept my sanity. By year 3 nothing had changed. I got really lucky and found a total novice to buy the place. I had sold it on contract, but this was fine with me because I had very solid collateral. On one of the best days of my life, we closed and he took over July 1st 1991. He lasted less than 6 months. I did have one more surprise coming. At the beginning of 1992 Congress had eased up on some of the bankruptcy laws and because of this I no longer had the secure collateral that I thought I had. I got the restaurant back. Not having the energy to go through this again, we decided to auction off all the equipment, cut our losses and go back to a simpler way of life.   Lesson learned.

Gregtwo krisesron ansteth

Throughout this time I would still spend quite a bit of time at the Uptown but Kris Hall and Greg Hybki pretty much ran the show.  With the help of a few right hands like Chris Biagi and Ron Ansteth they handled it very well.

green pic 4 uptownI still had big plans for the small Uptown. It was going to be pretty easy now only having one place to run. We did a major remodeling, green this time.

green utWe tore the bar platform out and took the squeeze out of "the pole". We moved the restrooms to a common area of the mini mall thus gaining some more seating. Our office got moved out of the elevator to something slightly larger, but again no windows.

uptown georgeEvery day we would be visited by Georgie Tarbuck.  I am sure that you all remember him, a downtown icon in his day.  He would stick his head in and yell.  "I hate money!" on a daily basis.

We bought a state of the art point of sales system. When training the staff we would enter their current shift's tickets in the system. We found out that doing it by hand we were making about 100$ worth of mistakes every day. Needless to say it paid for itself very quickly. We were still using this system up to October of 2009. Things were starting to return to normal, sales and profits were good. I was going to recover from the Kickapoo set back. We were able to start doing our own design and graphics using computers and laser printers which greatly increased our ability to change things up in the restaurant and with the menus.

nyeA few highlights of that era........

During this period we started the tradition of covering the place with an obscene amount of balloons and streamers on New Years Eve.

Our best bartender, Kristie Witek,  got engaged to our best customer Randy Pytel.

We started doing a "Magic Cake" for birthdays and special occasions.

staff ryanMy oldest son Ryan started to work and my youngest son Reid was almost chopped in half by the freight elevator doors.

I built a house in Spring Valley and had to start driving to work. Previously we had lived only about 2 block from the Uptown, next to the library in La Salle.

Business was so good that we were still out growing our facility. I started to get offered opportunities to move. I did not want more than one place and I did not want to compete with myself. Still renting our space, it had become time for us to become owners. For a while I seriously considered moving to "mall land" and building a new spot. I was very concerned about how this might upset our client base. If I moved farther away someone might occupy my old space. The answer was closer than I thought.

The Woolworth's had gone out of business several years before and was sitting empty, as was much of downtown La Salle. I could move right next door and really not upset anything that I had spent 10 years building. But how do you make a Woolworth's store into a restaurant? The place was also much more space than I could ever afford to remodel let alone use. After much bargaining, design, concept work and obtaining financing we closed the deal. We were going to become owners. We were going to be able to design a space that worked exactly for what we wanted to do.

This is a hard place to leave off so I will finish off the old Uptown now and next week start building the new Uptown.

Last night, Last Table.
last night last table
It was Saturday July 27th, the last night in the old Uptown. We did not advertise anything. As to opening of the new place we wanted to keep the hype down having learned by now that you are much better learning to walk before you run. I was so touched that so many people came to say goodbye to the old place that night. The party went into the wee hours of the morning.

The burning of the ties!
Burning ties
The girls burned their ties on the sidewalks on First Street.  They hated every uniform but this was their most hated. 

Last Night, Last Moment
last night last moment
I had a crew coming in at 6am Sunday morning to start the move. It was going to be a long day.....week.... month....... We were moving!

To be continued........

If you have anything to add, comments, pictures or memories you would like to share please don't hesitate to contact me directly at - owner@uptowngrill.com

More Staff Photos
The Green Period
by Ray
staff krisDoing monthly inventory was always a challenge at midnight.

staff chrissieChrissie Mattioda.  With only 25 employees we had 5 Chris's that at one time.  We all had to have different knick names to keep us organized.

staff tracy and wendyTracy Witczak and Wendy Ossola. 

staff xmas partyChristmas party hugs.

National Holidays
Armed Forces Day
by Ryan
armed forcesThis Saturday is Armed Forces Day. The holiday was created on August 31st, 1949 by President Harry S. Truman. In an effort to combine all of the individual days to honor each branch of the Military, President Truman asked the army, navy, marines, air force and coast guard to drop their respected days to have one Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Marines complied. However, the Coast Guard and the Marines did not and retained their original observance days. Over time, the Coast Guard and the Marines also joined in Armed Forces Day, but still retained their original observance day as an extra day of honor.

It would seem there are so many military days that it can be difficult to distinguish which is which. Here is a quick guideline to understand what should be recognized and respected on each day.

Veterans Day -- To honor all who have served in the military-especially to recognize those who have fought in wars or actions taken to protect the United States of America.

Memorial Day -- To honor all who have died in wars and actions taken to defend and protect the United States of America.

Armed Forces Day - To honor all United States military forces and the work they do to protect the country.

And for those of you wondering what you can do to honor and observe Armed Forces Day, here are a few quick suggestions to show support for those that pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Fly the American flag

Talk or write a letter to a soldier

Read an article online about any segment of the military

Watch a patriotic movie

Discuss the importance of the military as a family

Wear red, white, and blue clothing or decorative jewelry

Behind the Bar
Capital Brewery Supper Club Lager
By Jimmy

supper clubNew on our draft list this week is a beer from a brewery that we have never had before. Capital Brewery located in Middleton, Wisconsin was founded in 1984. Relatively new to the beer making process, the brewery is located in a former egg processing plant. Much of its brewing equipment, including two copper kettles, came from the Hoxter Brewery in Germany. With an excellent refridgeration system, required for the lager making process,  Capital produces high quality lager beers. Many refer to Capital as the finest lager brewery in the United States.  Its distribution consists of delivering to only three other states besides Wisconsin; Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.
In 1998 the brewery was named the #1 Brewery in America at the World Beer Championships held in Chicago.

It produces 16 different beers annually and on draft now for us is Supper Club Lager.  This lager is new to the Captital beer selection this year. Capital claims that "back in the era when supper clubs were in vogue and numerous regional breweries were making their version of American style lagers. Many of these beers were enjoyed  at a local supper club visiting with friends and having a good dinner. This lager displays great malt character with a smooth satisfying finish.
Not Your "Everyday" Specials
Steak Diane, Seafood Mixed Grill, Fajitas for Two
by Kris

fajitasOur "Fajita Friday" special, which has been a big hit on Friday nights for a couple of months now, will be moving to ALL DAY on Sundays. I know, we have to change the name. How about "Siesta Sunday"?  Well, we'll work on that.   Yes, you get a chicken fajita for two with a 64 ounce pitcher of margaritas for only $20!  Imagine this on a Sunday afternoon on the patio or at a sidewalk table with the sunshine and a nice breeze!  No, your not in Cabo, but it sure feels like it!  This will start on Sunday, May 23rd.

seafood trioReplacing the Fajita special on Friday will be our Mixed Seafood Grill.  It will start Friday, May 14th. Many of you will remember this special that we offered during lent.  It includes a  4 oz lobster tail with drawn butter, 4 oz salmon filet with basil cream and 4 oz whitefish parmesan with lemon caper butter.  All for only $19.75

steak diane

Last, but definitely not least... Starting Monday, May 17th we will be serving Steak Diane for $13.75.  This will be just like the Red Door Inn.  With Victor's stamp of approval.

On Our Special
Blackberry Point Oysters on the Half Shell
Seared Tuna
Grilled Artichokes
Panini Sandwich with Sopressata, Provolone Cheese and Pepperonata
Cumin Chicken and Watercress Salad
Braised Short Ribs
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Mango Pineapple Chutney
Bay Scallops and Pancetta in White Wine Cream Sauce over Spaghetti
Creamed Swiss Chard
Fresh Raspberry Mascarpone Tart
Fresh Strawberries with Sugar Glazed Mascarpone
Win a Free Lunch

Foodie Fight Free Lunch Contest
by Kris

foodie fightEach week in the newsletter we will ask 3 questions from the Foodie Fight cards.  The first person to email us (see link below) the correct answers to all three questions will receive a complimentary free lunch.  The winner has to have the correct answer for all three questions, no exceptions.  The following week we will publish the correct answers and the winner from the previous week.  So come on in and have a drink, study the cards, test each other and have fun.    Good Luck!

1. Who donated $1 million in 2004 to Dillard University to establish a program that includes African-American culinary studies? 
2. What condiment has the French House of Maille been making since 1747? 
3. What is the metal or plastic casing called that covers the lip and cork of a wine bottle? 

Fine Print...
You must be the first person to respond with all three correct answers.
The response must go to the email address in the above link.
You must reply within 24 hours from the time the newsletter is published.

Last Week questions and answers....

1. Who, in a TV episode, unknowingly orders escargot in a Paris cafe and exclaims, "Waiter, this food has snails in it," and then requests ketchup?  Lucille Ball

2. What U.S. President called the cocktail hour "the pause between the errors and trials of the day and the hopes of the night"? Herbert Hoover

3. What is the name of the French appetizer that uses meat that is slowly cooked in seasoned fat, pounded into a paste, potted and sealed with a layer of fat? Rillettes

Last weeks winner of the free lunch ... Pam Cavanaugh
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Uptown Grill
601 First St.
La Salle, Il 61301
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