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May 19, 2010
Uptown's 25th Anniversary
Chapter Three, The New Uptown
by Ray

The Original Concept

Peggy Martin's Exterior Concept
martin front of building
Designing the new Uptown was a challenge. How do you turn a 1950's 10,000 square foot box into a restaurant? A few of the things that were major considerations were laying it out so you could make money when it was slow as well as busy. In other words we had to be able to close down part of the dining room as well as the kitchen when we did not need them or want to staff them. Also, no one wants to be one of 3 or 4 tables dining in a sea of empty tables.

Floor Plan
cad drawing
After living with tables 7, 8 and 13 next door ( those were the tables that floated in the middle of the room) for over 10 years we wanted every table to be comfortable. This makes the seating much nicer for the customer and can be seated fairly for the wait staff. I also think that it is important not to be in an aisle and to have a wall to "anchor" every table.

Original kitchen entrance door.
kitchen const
We wanted the kitchen to be centrally located with the tables surrounding the service area. This also allowed for every table to be near a window. With 10,000 square feet coming from less than 2,000 it was almost hard to find a way to use up all the space. I was coming from a situation where every cubic inch was important to a place where we had square yards to waste.  Some where, very late in the process, we decided if everything went as planned to finish the back space as a banquet area instead of renting it out as retail space.

Ray in construction garb.
constuction, ray

The architects and engineers gave me the go ahead to chop the walls full of holes to accommodate windows and to pour 3 inches of concrete through out the entire building. A great surface for laying ceramic tile. Peggy Martin of Ottawa gave us an exterior look that we really liked. Since we never had a set of firm plans many of our costs were a guess. Another thing that entered in to the equation was that we had 18 months left on our lease. Since I had the construction bug from building a house the year before I thought with that much time I could save a lot of money by doing much of it myself.

The future home of the Uptown bar.
interior const south bar
We took possession of the building in early August 1995 and started tearing things apart about a week after that. When I walked in for the first time as the owner and looked at the size of that empty shell it was rather daunting. I have taken on projects before that required almost 100% of my time for months, but nothing that would last a full year. It is a good thing I had that construction bug. Why is doing someone elses job so much fun sometime?

Construction crew.  Ray, Dave, Jeff, Chris, Macky.
construction crew 3
For the first 6 months we worked 6 days a week and I would still fill in next door when needed. The last 6 month became a mad scramble to wrap it it up and most of the time we would work 2 shifts. My sons high school teams had started their run of 3 straight years of playing in championship games, 4 of them in all. It was hard, but I didn't miss any games that year.  I remember thinking as it was getting closer to making the move that I was not wanting it to end. I had been a construction worker for a year and I liked it. Maybe it was because the real work was about to start. 

Dave, Jimmy, Chuck, Ray.  Getting ready to knock out the front facad to accommodate the patio.
exterior const corner
Jimmy Lannen was a dishwasher/busboy/cook at this time and to get extra hours he would help on the night construction shift. When I asked him for his recollections this is how he responded. "I was proud that at age 15 you let me lay the laminate flooring from the front desk all the way to the coat room while you worked on something else . I remember the move over here, it was like a factory, out the back mini mall door to an army of gorillas that were taking a pressure washer and scrubby buckets to all the equipment. Then taking it all in the new back dock door.  Everything was all measured out ahead of time to fit exactly where it would go, and I was suprised that everything fit pretty much to the inch. Geoff Hejl trained both Ryan and I to be janitors and then we both trained Danny Miller".

Marsha sorting through "the move."
setting up 6 marsha
As we mentioned in last weeks chapter, we closed the old Uptown on Saturday night.  We started the move on Sunday morning.  It took 3 days to make the move because we needed a couple of weekdays under our belt before we hit the weekend. It was either open on Wednesday or sit out that next weekend and that didn't seem right. 

Chris sorting through "the move."
setting up 4
After 3 long days of cleaning, restocking, prepping, training, reorganizing, reinstalling equipment, and programing our point of sales system, we were ready.

Kris and Ray, Day one, both having a bad hair day!
setting up 1
We needed to more than double our staff. The weeks preceding we had started training new staff as much as we could in the old Uptown way. This was a unique situation because when we made the move our new people were 2/3 clueless, our veterans were only 1/3 clueless but at least we weren't totally clueless. I do remember it being much harder than I thought it would be. Business was great right of the bat!

Plenty of plants and well wishes for the new building.
moving in front desk
With needing so much more help I had developed a few sure fire staffing techniques. Number one and most effective was to steal my wifes babysitters. Heck, if she could trust my children to them, I could for sure trust my customers to them. Over the years they were a very formative part of my children's lives and damn good waitresses too. Thanks to Tierney, Lynn, Gretchen and Susie just to name a few.

When we found an employee that was good and they had siblings we usually tried to sign up the whole "fam"-chise. We had many families that contributed multiples to our staff. There was the Tooveys, Edgerlys, Eitens, Straits, Peters, Maciejewski's, O'Connors,  Konzcaks,  Victors,  and the whole Batchelder clan. As you would expect we have had all 5 Anderes's working at the same time and I am proud to say they filled in just like any other staff member. We would always hire a "goolie" (someone from the Igloo) when ever we had the chance. Also over the years we had the greatest group of college students that would come back for the summers and Christmas seasons to help us get our vacations in and get us over the sales jump hump.

Drew and Denise Bernabei and Danny, Salad crew for Spaghetti Dinner.
danny spag dinnner
It was 11 years ago that we were able to start doing the Lighted Way Spaghetti dinner. Our facility was made for an event like this being able to pump out 1200 meals in 3 hours. This charity particularly interested me because of how local it is and I know where the money goes.

Uptown's mural.
moving in outside
As the next few years went on we grew into our space rather nicely. We learned how to do banquets. Increased the number of different things we sold both in food and liquor. Our wine list quadrupled.  Seating was a breeze, because every table was a good one . We could knock things back a notch when it was slow. Business was easy to find. Employees were not.

Ray and Jason Clydsdale
setting up 3
Later in the 90's it had gotten very hard to hire help and to keep them. Unemployment was at an all time low. This actually might have been the most challenging period in my career. We had health insurance and paid vacations for our staff at the old place. We bolstered both of these and added an employer funded simple IRA in order to keep staff. This might not sound like much to some people but this is extremely rare in our business. Many of the people I compete with don't offer these benefits to their staff. I feel it is worth mentioning because this was one of the things that we did that contributes to the consistency in our staff today.

Uptown Christmas party at Red Door Inn
staff 14
We were in the boom years.  Real estate prices were rising, low inflation, low unemployment, a federal budget surplus and the stock market was soaring. I swear you could feel it in the dining room atmosphere when the market had a really good day.

Since 1985 we really did not have one thing happen in our country that shook our confidence as a country. Maybe a hiccup of a recession in the early 90s but nothing I ever really felt in my business. It had gotten really lucky to have increased our size at the time of a great economic expansion.  Then 911 happened. 

Now I hate to pick a historical or political point at which to end this chapter but it really seems like the only logical point to do. Things were different after this. We felt it and not just in a monetary sense.

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

25th Anniversary, Chapter One

25th Anniversary, Chapter Two
25th Anniversary, More Pictures
Remnants of the old Woolworth's sign still visible.

Drinks at the old Uptown after a day of construction on the new Uptown.
cons crew

Front entrance and construction crew. Chuck Messino, Ray, Jeff Boyd, Dave Mills.  Greg Hypki and Chris Plankenhorn observe.
exterior front door

Kris, Dan Miller and Chuck Messino at one of our Christmas Parties.  Kris's hair goes from brown to blonde (?) Chuck's receeds and Dan's.....????
staff 7

Jim, Ray and Chuck. 
staff 8

Marsha, yes, that's Marsha.
staff 11

On Special
Bowtie Pasta with Imported Tuna and Capers
By Jimmy

tuna bowtie

Growing up, my recollections of canned tuna involved the supermarket boughten "Chicken of the Seas" that was made into tuna fish sandwiches. These sandwiches seemed to be packed at least once a week in my sack lunch going to grade school. I really never got into it because of how much I was "forced" to eat it. The same boring taste with no real flavor.

However, in working in a restaurant, I find that there are so many interesting twists and flavors of food that I never imagined. I continue to learn of new and interesting dishes that Ray and Chef Chris bring in each week.

This week we are featuring a Bowtie Pasta with imported Italian Tuna served with grape tomatoes and swiss chard in white wine and olive oil.  It is a  nice light seasonal dish due to it not having a heavy cream sauce. Now this has no comparison to what I had growing up. This light Mediterranean pasta dish is made with nice thick chunks of Italian tuna, not your everyday canned tuna you buy in the store.  Italian canned tuna is said to be the finest in quality and taste in the world. It is packed in olive oil that preserves the tuna and seals in the flavor.

Tuna and olive oil are among the most important ingredients of the Mediterranean diet. In doing a little research, I found that tuna is an excellent source of protein, and one of the richest and most convenient sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists report that Omega-3 may help in the fight against heart disease, play a beneficial role in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and can ease the pain of arthritis. I encourage you to come and taste what a good canned tuna should taste like.
Interesting Foods
by Ryan
rhubarbRhubarb is not something I've really ever acquired a taste for.  My memories of rhubarb go back as far as being a child and trying Grandma's homemade rhubarb pie. I think this is the only thing my Grandma ever made that I did not like. As a matter of fact I know it's the only thing I never liked that she cooked. Her pies were the best. But, many of you do enjoy rhubarb and if you check our menu in the next few days you might see an Uptown special that includes Rhubarb.

Rhubarb is defined as a vegetable, however a 1947 ruling in a New York City courtroom deemed that because rhubarb was used as a fruit, within the United States, it was to be called a fruit. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the tax reduction that came along with the name change.
Rhubarb is used for its tart flavor. It is most commonly prepared by cutting into 1 inch strips and boiling or stewing in water. Mixed with numerous other ingredients the rhubarb can be broken down into jams, sauces and in some cultures, even wine. Another use for rhubarb is in the medicinal area. Mostly used as a laxative, rhubarb is also commonly used in Chinese practice and in research it has been found to also lower blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.

Holiday Hours
Memorial Day
by Kris

fresh fruit flag

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
Malpaque Oysters on the Half Shell
Bruschetta with Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzarella
Panini Sandwich with Mortadella, Provolone Cheese, Roasted Red Peppers
Shrimp Salad and Avocado on Challa Roll
Jumbo Soft Shell Crabs   
Lemon Sole Bonne Femme
Bowtie Pasta with Imported Italian Tuna and Capers
Creamed Swiss Chard
Strawberry Lemon Curd Cake
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. What herb has a downy silvery-green leaf, a potent, earthy flavor, and is often used with pork and in turkey stuffing.
2. What stadium food of today did Julius Caesar introduce to Rome in 48b.c.?
3. What neighborhood restaurant chain, headquartered in Atlanta, has a 68 percent male customer base?

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.
Participants are eligible to win a limit of 3 times a year.

Last Week questions and answers....

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

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