For John Aranza and Christine Tully Aranza, opening Berwyn's Autre Monde was a labor of love, both literally and figuratively. The longtime restaurant vets, who met while working at Spiaggia, are partners in both business and life. The married couple began working on Autre Monde more than two years ago, got the community involved through a Kickstarter campaign and made their dream a reality. They brought in old friends, Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge (also Spiaggia vets who are married, too) to helm the kitchen and since opening a year ago, Autre Monde has been on a great ride. The Mediterranean-inspired restaurant has won a number of accolades and is drawing foodies out of their comfort zone in the city to the nearby suburb.
This was really a passion project. Has it turned out as you had imagined?
Christine: Beyond. We've had such an amazing first year and choosing the neighborhood we thought was underserved, we found that it was. With all of the recognition we've gotten ... our goal was to just open a neighborhood place, but to get the critical recognition was the icing on cake
John: It's humbling, too. And to have people give us a tip of the hat, it creates this kind of self worth we didn't expect.
Christine: It's great validation.
So how has the first year been?
Christine: It has exceeded our expectations from business aspects—from the moment we opened the door we were busy—to things we wanted to do like the greenhouse was so embraced. Those are the main things that were the highlights of the first year.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
Both: No. [Laugh].
Christine: It some ways it feels like 10 years and sometimes it feels like yesterday. When you're living with the project long before you start working on it, then there's the day to day.
How was the actual opening? Were there any memorable screw ups or did things go smoothly?
Christine: The most amazing thing for us was that there weren't. Because it was such a big construction process, we did all the hiring and training in 10 days, but it went so smoothly. We definitely had someone on our side. We were very lucky to get the people we did.
John: It's almost like script, like that child you're having and you hope they turn out so well and then people tell you how well they turned out to be.
You were nominated for some awards and were well received by local food critics. How did that feel?
Christine: [Tribune food critic] Phil Vettel selected us for outstanding restaurant. We were nominated for a lot of things, but when you open in the same year as Next ... [laughs]. For us, it was more little things like getting the cover of Time Out Chicago's 100 Best Things We Ate cover.
John: We were nominated and won an award from the Chicago Realtors Association for the work we did on the building. That was neat for what it was a dilapidated flower shop that we flipped over.
Christine: It feels great. Opening a restaurant is a huge risk and when you finally go out on your own, you hope the experience goes the right way. To have Tony [Mantuano] come in and eat and have a proud smile on his face when he was done, that was great.
John: We have that satisfied smile on our faces, but you keep moving. I equate it to a rubber ducky: You look graceful above water and paddle like hell underneath. You keep moving to keep it what you want it to be.
Since you're in Berwyn, do you feel like you're more of a neighborhood spot or do people see Autre Monde as a destination too?
Christine: Both. We get that question a lot. We definitely see people from different neighborhoods in the city but also from Naperville and LaGrange.
John: [The B-52s] Fred Schneider popped in last month. He was staying with friends in Oak Park. It was really funny.
Christine: I'd say it's a pretty good mix. Most regulars are from the nearby area, but also Logan Square and other city neighborhoods that aren't too far.
John: It validated our feeling that it's a great spot.
Christine: It's very quick to get out here. To me, it takes 20 minutes at the most to get to most places in the city. It's a nice anchor and we see a lot of people moving into the area.
What's been the best part of having Autre Monde?
Christine: Being able to do it completely your way. When it's your baby, you can continue to add things. Restaurants are generational and we're catering things to people in their 30s and 40s and it doesn't need to be the way it was when we grew up, like having your starter, big entrée. And being able to work with the people we want to work with, like designers, who can really show their talents. We've also been really lucky with our staff.
John: Our turnover in the first year, we lost one server and that happened within the first two months when we opened. They're very much into it and pay attention to service.
And the worst?
Christine: I don't know that it's so different than when you manage a restaurant, but as an owner, you're the end all.
John: No matter what the kids did, you're the one who gets the phone call from the school. There haven't been many major obstacles.
What's next for you, any expansion plans?
Christine: We're thinking about doing something along the same lines and doing another place, possibly doing something in the city, in a neighborhood. Now that we have some time to start looking, there's some ideas. We're also talking about maybe doing a quick-serve thing close in proximity, maybe on Roosevelt. Those are really loose plans, but more likely we'd do something in a city neighborhood first.