by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
“Hardly a day has gone by that I have not been asked when Pasta House will reopen in Springfield,” is what Joe Rupnik recently told me. In case you have not seen the sign going up, I have good news for all you Pasta House fans. Joe is totally rebuilding the former Denny’s located at Wabash Avenue and Veterans Parkway. A brand new Pasta House is scheduled to open at the end of the month in time for holiday shopping. Joe never gave up his Pasta House franchise and sold the former Pasta House building at Southwest Plaza a number of years ago for real estate purposes.
I think you can say that Joe must have ketchup or red sauce in his blood. His Dublin Pub located a few blocks away was doing fine and many people his age would be thinking of retiring. Joe even says that he could easily retire but “retirement is not in my vocabulary.”
Joe Rupnik comes from a strong restaurant family. His father was an executive chef at the Leland Hotel where he, along with two others, created the famous Springfield “horseshoe.” His mother was a waitress at the St. Nicholas and worked alongside Springfield culinary legends Peter Duer and George Bauer. Even his three brothers all worked in the hospitality field. Joe started working in a restaurant when he was 14 and still enjoys the challenges each day brings.
The Pasta House Co. was founded in 1974 in St. Louis and is still a very popular concept. Their mission, as stated on their website, is “from the very beginning to always be the very best family-friendly Italian restaurant and to provide exceptional food at fair prices with excellent service in a friendly and clean atmosphere.”
The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart … or as I like to say “faint of stomach.” There is a high failure rate, and two of the primary reasons are poor location or lack of experience. Around 60 percent of new restaurants fail within the first year, and nearly 80 percent shutter before their fifth anniversary. Joe of course has the proven experience, and contrary to major stores closing at the mall, Joe is energized by all the new construction and development at the Wabash and Veterans corner. He strongly believes, to be successful in the restaurant industry in Springfield that “service is the key.” The goal for him to make each dining experience “unique” so customers will want to come back to Pasta House.
He had no idea of the poor condition that the existing Denny’s was in when he purchased it. For example, he had to replace all of the plumbing going all the way back to the street. The new restaurant will be 4,730 square feet and seat 150 with a private room for parties accommodating 25 to 30.
Loyal Pasta House fans will happy to hear that the new menu is basically the same. Joe understands people are eating healthier but “we still need some carbs in life.” He asked that I inform my readers that unlike many restaurants, everything prepared at the Pasta House will be “made from scratch.”
A key demographic audience for Joe are millennials. While millennials, who are currently between the ages of 25 and 40, may lack the discretionary income of the fine-dining boomer set, they are dining out more frequently.
“Millennials dine out a lot,” affirms Sara Monnette, director of consumer research at foodservice research firm Technomic. “In terms of spending, they’re not the biggest spenders at restaurants because they don’t have as much disposable income, but they are dining out frequently. And based on where they are in their lives—a lot are moving back home, living with parents, living in multi-generational households—they tend to use restaurants as a place to gather with their friends.”
In fact, 41 percent of millennials purchase food away from home at least twice a week, compared to 38 percent of Gen Xers and 37 percent of Baby Boomers, according to Technomic’s report.
Joe will be attempting to reach this millennial audience with delivery provided by Springfield’s “Mr. Delivery” and in the near future, through online ordering. For those who want the convenience of take out, there will be special promotions that will allow you to order and pick up on the way home from work.
When asked about challenges in opening a new restaurant, there was no hesitation when Joe replied, “labor, labor, labor. Springfield is a tough labor market, and people have so many choices today.” Many of his employees are what he calls “Bridge of Life” people. They are in high school or college deciding what to do in life and working in restaurants serves as a “bridge” during this time period. There are some “lifers,” and he takes pride when he can promote an employee on to management. Joe says working in a restaurant is a great life experience, and often customers or people he sees will come up to him and remind him that they were once an employee or the beneficiary of a meal he provided a local school sports team.
On a personal note, I asked Joe what one would find in his refrigerator at home. He smiled and said very little, primarily fruits and vegetables, for he primarily dines in his restaurants. He is on the computer daily checking Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. He is admittedly a “workaholic,” working seven days a week. A typical day starts at five in the morning with daily workout, a walk with the dogs, and in the office by 7. He audits restaurant sales, checks his email, personally follows up on customer issues, oversees lunch prep and service, leaves for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and then he’s back at dinner time to check prep and service.
One of the most popular menu items at Pasta House is the salad, and Joe has provided us the following recipe. Thank you, Joe, for the interview and once again investing in our community.
Pasta House Salad
Yield: 4 servings
1 head iceberg lettuce
1/3 head romaine lettuce
1 cup canned artichoke hearts packed in brine (not marinated), drained well
1 cup sliced red onions
1 cup diced pimientos, drained well
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Wash iceberg and romaine; let drain completely. Refrigerate until cold.
Split head of iceberg lettuce in half, pulling the heart of the lettuce out of both halves and breaking it into small pieces. Do not use a knife. Separate the rest of iceberg; it will break up when salad is tossed. Tear each romaine leaf into 3 pieces.
Place iceberg and romaine in large bowl. Add artichoke hearts, onions and pimientos. Combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and cheese; add to lettuce in bowl. Toss until mixed completely, then serve.
Per serving: 480 calories; 43g fat; 8g saturated fat; 10mg cholesterol; 9g protein; 14g carbohydrate; 6g sugar; 4g fiber; 960mg sodium; 200mg calcium
On behalf of my family and everyone at Lincoln Land Community College, wishing you a harvest of blessings, good health and good times. Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Education Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email email@example.com.