by Bill More
If you want to know about food trends you really should contact Lisa Mancuso, 60, who, with her partner Bruce Brown own Paparazzi Restaurant on Voss Avenue in Peoria Heights. They are soon entering their 31st year in business. How many restaurants do you know that can boast that fact? They opened in 1983, in the midst of a Caterpillar strike.
Talk about bad timing………….
Guess what, it worked.
Lisa graciously shared some time with me and told me that she actually started in the food business as a server for the Conklin Dinner Theater in Goodfield, just a couple of years after they opened. That was, as they say, “back in the day”. They REALLY got started in their own business a number of years later with Paparazzi. Their recipes and techniques came from Peter Brown, Bruce’s brother, and a chef in San Francisco at the time. He came to Peoria Heights to get the ball rolling, teach Bruce how to handle all the chef work, and produce consistently positive results. Bruce had no restaurant experience prior to opening Paparazzi, but he needed a job and Peter suggested opening a restaurant.
What a roll of the dice.
Peter returned to San Francisco 9 months after his stint in Central Illinois. At the time Paparazzi was the first truly authentic Italian restaurant in the Peoria area. In 1983 steakhouses were all the rage, and were among the most popular dine-out spots in Central Illinois. The Chicken in Parchment at Paparazzi was their most requested dish, and it remains their most popular dish to this very day, decades later. Lisa told me that their pasta dishes have consistently been popular and she finds that the trend now is toward more comfort food --- pastas, meatballs, sausage, meatloaf ---- are going to continue to trend high. Back to basics is repeated here too. As we passed through their small kitchen I noticed that the butcher block cutting board they use for their famous garlic bread has become concave through years and years of serving this one dish.
She is finding that customers are looking forward to taking some time with their meals there as they find time to relax, connect with family and friends, and get a break from their typically busy schedules. Speaking of families, she tells me that Paparazzi enjoys seeing 3,4, and even 5 generations of some families that have been coming to Paparazzi for literally decades. One of her surprises is that she finds a cadre of much younger customers, even too young to be ordering wine, arriving at the restaurant and truly enjoying the entire experience. She loves that. Apparently the trend they saw when they opened is still successful to this day. She is also very pleased that they have been able to survive and thrive on word-of-mouth advertising only.
Their menu has only been slightly tweaked over the years. They started with comfort food, great ingredients expertly but simply prepared, and they have virtually the very same menu to this very day. She has tried to remove a couple of items from the menu over the years only to hear wails from their loyal customers who have ordered those self same dishes for years and years. If it ain’t broke……………
Lisa said that there have been no real disappointments over the last 30 years.
She has lean staff, she and Bruce literally run the place, do their own cooking, do their own vacuuming, cleaning, presentation and more, and it works, it works, it works.
They have fabulous and attentive serving staff and a number of them, like the restaurant itself, have been there for years. If it ain’t broke…………..
They saw a trend back in 1983, and the same trend appears today.
She and Bruce fully anticipate it will continue on into the future.