Riffs on Italian and More
by Bill More
I had a great time meeting Bekim Rizvani and re-connecting with Jesse Kidd, 29.
Bekim is the owner of the Rizzi’s restaurants along with his wife Sindis.
Even at his young age of 37, Bekim has been in the restaurant business for 25 years.
Yes, you read that right, he started with his family’s restaurant business on the East Coast at the tender age of 12. (Don’t worry, I don’t think they broke any labor laws.)
He started at the back of the house washing dishes, a familiar story, and later started bussing tables. From there he starting cooking and quickly got into management at the stores.
Locally Rizzi’s on Sheridan started in 1995, was one of the best restaurants in the Tri-County area at the time, and there was a line of customers out the door and down the sidewalk waiting for a table. Their sister restaurant, different menu by the way, is
Rizzi’s on State Street downtown Peoria. It opened in 1999. Both restaurants have enjoyed fabulous success even though the restaurant scene has become lots and lots more competitive than in the past. Jesse Kidd is the chef at the Sheridan store and has been with the group for more than 8 years. He was chef at Red Zin when it took over the spot that was The Grill on Fulton, but it has since closed. Jesse then moved to the Sheridan location and has been chef there since that time.
When Bekim started in the business foods and restaurant meals were far more simple, and the customers, frankly, less educated about food. Every restaurant today has to step UP their game. With the huge popularity of The Food Network, Cooking Channel, Top Chef, Chopped, and other food driven television shows, food, the variety of ingredients, the preparation and presentation are ALL OVER the place. Customers have become far more sophisticated, more willing to try new ingredient combinations, and even new and innovative ways of presentation. Rizvani loves that idea and consistently tries to tweak old favorite customer recipes and is always trying to add new dishes, but slowly and quite deliberately, to their offerings.
Rizvani and Kidd both feel that the gluten-free phenomenon will fade shortly. While they recognize there are a number of customers that medically must avoid gluten they feel there are some customers that have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon because it is in fashion. No problem. They can accommodate most dietary restrictions and are happy to do so. They also feel the Farm-To-Table idea is a solid one and one which will most likely stay around. The problem in Central Illinois, however, is that the season is limited to the warm weather months and is limited as a result. There is a growing interest in hydroponic growing and businesses are set up in major metro areas around the country to provide fresh ingredients freshly delivered to restaurants in their own locale. I know of none of those locations around here. There are some producers that will grow in hoop houses, protected to a degree from the ravages of frost and snow, but even those growing seasons are limited. The dishes at the restaurants still must be value priced or no one will come.
They did say they expect the Micro-Brew concept to be hot over the next few years. People will want comfort food but served with new and creative twists that elevate the meals above the ordinary. Expect to see that kind of concept replicated in Central Illinois sooner rather than later.
They admitted that the restaurant game is rewarding in many many ways, they realize they put in TONS of hours, occasionally must deal with impatient customers who may not realize that Rizzis’s is not, and never WILL be fast-food, they find it a fabulous profession in which they can show their love for the food as they show their love for their customers. They have been doing it right for years and will be doing it right for years into the future. Visit them soon.