When Gail Huesmann and Vita Jarrin started putting together the menu for their new restaurant in Brookfield, one thing was clear. It was going to be simple and affordable – the way neighborhood restaurants used to be.
And that’s what they’ve created at Back in the Day Café at 8801 Ogden Ave. The restaurant, which opened Sept. 3, specializes in Italian and American comfort food, cooked and served by certified chefs in a retro diner atmosphere.
“I’ve been cooking since I was a young child,” said Jarrin, who added that her Sicilian grandmother was a chef in Palermo. “She taught me the basics in the kitchen at an early age, and I’ve combined that with what they’ve taught me.”
The “they” Jarrin is referring to is the faculty at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC) and specifically to one of her instructors, Gail Huesmann.
“We wanted some place where people feel at home,” Huesmann said.
Both Huesmann and Jarrin entered the world of professional cooking later in life. Huesmann was an elementary and high school teacher for several years, and ended up in the Chicago area around 2000.
Huesmann, who earned her diploma as a pastry chef from CHIC, stayed on to teach. Jarrin, who at 40 chucked her career in finance to go to chef’s school, was in one of Huesmann’s classes there.
“If an employer wants to open a restaurant, they’re going to need talented people,” said Huesmann, who ended up partnering with Jarrin to open an Italian restaurant in Romeoville in the summer of 2008.
When the Romeoville venture fizzled late last year, Huesmann and Jarrin began rethinking their plans. Jarrin then found that Dizzy’s Diner in Brookfield was for sale on Craigslist.
“We were looking for something we could open on a shoestring budget, and for people on a shoestring budget to be able to dine,” Huesmann said. “And just because it’s inexpensive food, it doesn’t have to be cheap food.”
All of the dishes are made from scratch, including the pasta sauces (made by Jarrin) and pizza dough (made by Huesmann). The restaurant also serves sandwiches (Italian beef, meatball, steak and sausage) as well as entrees such as chicken parmesan, meatloaf, fried chicken, soups, appetizers and desserts.
“We want authentic, home-cooked meals,” Jarrin said. “The sign of a good chef is taking the simplest of ingredients and making it amazing. Hopefully, that’s what’ll keep them coming back for a long time.”
While the restaurant serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday (from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Huesmann said that the restaurant is planning on opening for breakfast some time in October.