Colleen Bennett - Sotheby's International Realty

You Want Italian? Eddie’s Got You Covered from Here to Cucamonga!

April 16, 2011
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For 25 years, restaurateur Ed Inglese has brought smiles to thousands of diners.

For 25 years, restaurateur Ed Inglese has brought smiles to thousands of diners.

Restaurateur Ed Inglese was running a few minutes late for his next appointment. He and his chef were tied up testing rib recipes to possibly put on the menu at Eddie’s New York Pizzeria and Eatery on Foothill Blvd. in Claremont. The previous night, he drove to Houston’s in Irvine to try the upscale restaurant’s ribs.

“They were fall-off-the-bone fantastic,” said Ed, who along with his partner Jim Hermanson runs the Absolutely Italian Management Group, which comprises Spaghetti Eddie’s in Glendora, Eddie’s Cucina Italiana in Rancho Cucamonga, and Tutti Mangia and Eddie’s New York Pizzeria and Eatery in Claremont.

Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject

For more than a quarter century, Ed has been going out of his way to get his menus right so he can offer his patrons the full flavor and variety of Italian food at the appropriate price point. Often logging 16 hour days, he’s used to the grinding schedule. In 1985, when he opened Spaghetti Eddies, now a Glendora icon, he knew what he was getting into.

“It wasn’t work; it was fun and never boring,” Ed recalled.

Back then, he was chef, server, dishwasher and accountant. “I had a gray metal desk in the middle of the kitchen in a mom and pop pizzeria with a chipped linoleum floor,” Ed said. “I had my calculators and my invoices in a drawer. We scraped a lot of knees back then to learn how to control the beast.”

From that desk, with his spaghetti sauce-splashed apron, he would call take-out diners at home to ask how they liked the food. “Hi, this is Eddie, just want to make sure everything was to your liking,” he would say.

“They were surprised to hear from me,” Ed said, fondly looking back on those first fledgling months in business. “They’d tell me the pizza was great or that it was a little singed or whatever.”

He’d take their tips and kept improving his product until a line was soon stretching out the door. He expanded the restaurant three different times, growing it from 750-square-feet to its current size of about 4,500-square feet. The first month, Spaghetti Eddies did about $3,700 (a large pizza was $7.95 in 1985), and the receipts kept expanding like pizza dough.

Having taken Spaghetti Eddies to the limit, he and Jim started looking for a second venture – an initiative where he could spread his culinary wings. He and Jim opened Tutti Mangia in 1996. “The idea was to be more about grill flavors and more about the pasta than the sauce,” Ed explained. “The sauce would be more of an accent, which is what true Italian cooking is about. It’s not about excess; it’s about all the flavors culminating together.”

Soon, the restaurateur had a second successful hit on his hands. “It started off more as a trattoria-style restaurant, then it evolved into more of a specialty dinner house and now it’s leaning more toward an Italian chophouse.

“I think people in Claremont really respect us,” added Ed, who lives in Claremont and is attuned to the City of Colleges’ gastronomic sophistication. People in Claremont are very worldly, they travel a lot. Because of that, you’re never going to fool them.”

Absolutely Italian Management’s acronym may be AIM, but the group misfired in 1999 by opening Papa Mio’s in Brea right across from the city’s celebrated mall. According to Ed, the location suffered because it wasn’t large enough and construction on the 57 freeway at the time made it hard to reach for foothill community residents. “We never got into the fabric of the community,” Ed said.

Like a great chef, Ed isn’t afraid to take risks and share failure failures along with his successes. After closing, Papa Mio’s, AIM opened a second Spaghetti Eddies in Rancho Cucamonga, playing on the west-to-east migration of San Gabriel denizens to the Inland Empire. “Many of our customers had moved to Rancho,” Ed said squarely.

Rancho, however, is not like the intimate, leafy communities of Glendora and Claremont. It’s an enormous grid of new tract homes and restaurant chains still sinking their roots in the community. To compete, Ed and Jim decided “to break the mold” and transform Spaghetti Eddies into Eddie’s Cucina Italiana, a restaurant/wine and martini bar serving pasta, seafood and steaks.

The bold stroke is paying off as patrons are associating the restaurant with other Rancho destination locations, such as Flemming’s, Harry’s Pacific Grill and King’s Fish House. “We said, ‘let’s poke our heads above the clouds,’” Ed said. So far, they like their new view.

The fourth cornerstone in AIM’s realm of restaurants is Eddie’s New York Pizzeria in Claremont, where pizza has been the primary focus, especially connecting with local sports teams. Never one to stand still, Ed is expanding the menu here as well, adding burgers, ribs, fish tacos, pulled pork sandwiches and other favorites. If Spaghetti Eddies motto is “We’re much, much more than just spaghetti,” then the pizzeria is becoming much more than just pizza.

This change shouldn’t anybody who knows Ed. At his command post for more than 25 years, he clearly understands what his restaurant patrons want and constantly sweats the details to keep them coming back for more. He and wife Debra are constantly experimenting in their home kitchen to bring new dishes to their various menus. Equally important, he can do all this in our new $5 per gallon of gas economy.

“I like to see it all working,” Ed said. “It’s great to be a great artist, but it’s more than painting a picture. “You have to cost it out. It has to look good. You have to have the right accents, the right plating, the right glassware. It has to all work together. You many not hit on all cylinders, but you better hit on enough so that people will take notice.”

While good food may rely on a pinch of this and a dash of that, Ed is all about structure as well. Once a month, he calls his general managers together for a sit-down session at AIM’s Montclair headquarters to go over financials, celebrate successes and discuss areas for improvement. He employs a coach to help conduct the meetings and impart fresh insights about some aspect of the restaurant business so his managers can continue to grow. Ed also employs mystery shoppers as one more way to keep his finger on the pulse of his restaurants.

Ed admits that because there are “so many factors coming at us on a daily basis,” he occasionally lets his mind wander to the sun-splashed vineyards of Sonoma/Napa wine world. But this chef/restaurateur, businessman isn’t going anywhere. Indeed, he has a concept for a fifth Southern California restaurant.

He wasn’t quite ready to divulge the details or the timing – there is still a recession to get through — but you be can sure of one thing. It will be Absolutely Italian!

 Click on AIM’s online banner to learn more about each the company’s four restaurants, as well as upcoming Easter and Mother’s Day specials. Also click on COUPON on the LVO home page for valuable savings on your next trip to Eddie’s Pizzeria and Eatery in Claremont.

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