To learn how to thrive in the restaurant business, let alone survive, LaVerneOnline wanted to talk to someone who had done both. For our subject matter expert or SME, we turned to an old hand, Eddie Inglese. For 31 years, he’s been the marvelous restaurateur and local dining dean behind Tutti Mangia and Eddie’s Italian Eatery in Claremont and Spaghetti Eddie’s in Glendora.
During that time he has confronted recessions, rising labor and food costs, changing consumer tastes and technologies, increasing lease expenses and mounting regulations, not to mention unyielding competitors, some well known, like the fast-casual “burn-‘em and turn-‘em craze, and others less obvious.
“Have you gone to the supermarket lately?” Eddie asked. “There must be six or seven refrigeration cases full of nothing but frozen pizzas. It used to be that on the way home from work, instead of cooking you’d pick up a pizza and a salad from your local pizzeria and enjoy it with the family.”
That change in consumer habits is a direct assault on his neighbor-centric business, forged one customer at a time.
When his restaurants aren’t full, Eddie will start fretting over all the possible factors, even down to the minutest detail like a change in the weather or a change to daylight savings times, forcing patrons to lose an hour of sleep, possibly throwing off their normal dining and shopping patterns.
Yet, through all of the ups and downs in the economy and with all of the uncertainty and challenges that can come out of left field, like anchor tenant Sport Chalet going bankrupt and disrupting his Glendora location’s walk-in traffic, he has weathered them all.
Through all that time, he hasn’t been just Spaghetti Eddie to the hungry, he’s been their Steady Eddie.
So what’s the secret hidden in his special sauce?
For one, his approach to the restaurant business appears to be as fresh and transparent as the ingredients he uses. He’s hand’s-on, checking, on any given day and at any location, the freshness of the breads, the CO2 level in the beverage dispenser, and the right amount of liqueur in the Bailey’s Irish Cream cannolis. And he is always seeking feedback.
In 1985 when he first opened Spaghetti Eddie’s, which has since grown from a space of 750 square feet to the 4,500-square-foot Glendora institution it is today, Eddie would call customers at home and ask how their pizza or lasagna was, today’s equivalent of “how’s everything tasting?”
“That was really great, and I learned a lot,” Eddie said, “and I’d take care of them the next time they came in.
“The secret to this business is staying in touch with your customers; you need to know what they are saying.”
That, and closely monitoring what leaves the oven, grill or deep fryer have always been part of his M.O.
When LaVerneOnline was sitting down with Eddie at the recently remodeled Eatery, he was delicately and delightfully probing the arancini (little oranges in Italian), tender balls of risotto (Italian rice), mozzarella and seasoned breadcrumbs served with marinara and crema rosa dipping sauces that were going to headline that evening’s list of appetizers. He called the chef out of the kitchen to discuss and analyze their size, consistency, balance and texture.
After sampling some of the other menu items at the Eatery, including a light but hearty chicken soup, Eddie was off to Tutti Mangia in Claremont to begin testing the spring menu, a two-day affair, he added.
But when it comes to his kitchens and unique Italian-inspired menus, as much experience and expertise as he has accumulated, he’s still more teacher than tyrant. He encourages his staff to experiment. While he believes in process to control overhead costs, he doesn’t want to cookie-cut his operations, like a national chain. He wants personality behind the process, hence he recently encouraged one of his daughters, who works as a baker for Disneyland, to feature her carrot cake on Eddie’s Italian Eatery menu.
Another thing Eddie knows is demographics, understanding that a delicious dish perfectly priced at one location may fail utterly at another. He knows that demand can wildly differ from downtown Claremont to Foothill Boulevard, even though both restaurants reside in the same city.
Diners at Eddie’s Italian Eatery may favor tiramisu or a bourbon bread pudding while his dinner guests at the more upscale Tutti Mangia might fancy and expect a pumpkin and ginger infused panna cotta.
That’s how finely Eddie has come to segment his overall clientele. Through trial and error, he has developed instincts and intuition that can’t be earned any other way.
As inexhaustible and indefatigable as Eddie has been in watching his stores, along with his business partner Jim Hermanson for all 31 years, Eddie knows he is not quite invincible. In January, he had surgery for trigeminal neuralgia, a condition in which the trigeminal nerve in his brain sent piercing pain pulsating pain down through his ear, mouth and jaw. The scare put Eddie in the hospital for a week, but now he’s back on his feet almost at full strength.
New in the Stew
“I’ll never retire, but I see myself cutting back as my kids get more involved in the business. His son Anthony, who is a student in Cal Poly Pomona’s Collins College of Hospitality Management program, works at Eddies Italian Eatery and son Joey works at his AIM (Absolutely Italian Management) restaurant headquarters in Montclair. His wife Debra, who was the breadwinner early in Eddie’s sauce-splashed, pizza-making career when he was working 16 hours a day to keep the business going, also has his back.
No, it’s doubtful Eddie will ever step away from his three successful restaurants. Our evidence came when he started recommending various menu items at the Eatery, shifting into server mode.
“Our Calabrian fries, which we toss with roasted garlic, Applewood bacon, shredded Parmesan cheese and fresh mozzarella, and drizzle with our homemade Calabrian aioli, are absolutely delicious,” Eddie said. “People love them. You can’t get them anywhere else.”
Next, he started touting the honey mustardsalmon salad and a salmon piccata, along with a hamburger served Calabrese style.
You could tell he was back in his element, enjoying the reverie of recommending different flavor profiles and sharing them with his guests.
Any of Eddie’s three restaurants is a culinary adventure. Below are the specials offered at Eddie’s Italian Eatery located at 1065 W. Foothill Blvd. in the Stater Brothers shopping center in Claremont. For more information, call (909) 398-1985 or visit www.eddieseatery.com.
Eddie’s Nightly Specials
Eddie’s Italian Eatery has a different special every night of the week. All nightly specials included choice of Minestrone Soup or House Salad. Promotions not good with our nightly specials.
Monday – Pizza Modo Mio
Individual 10” Extra Thin Crust Pizza with Unlimited Traditional Toppings 10.99
Tuesday – Chicken Tuscany
5 oz. Grilled Marinated Chicken Breast Served over Mushroom Quinoa Served with a Side of Eddie’s Lemon Butter Sauce 16.99
Wednesday – Stuffed Shells Al Forno
Housemade Stuffed Shells with Ricotta and Mozzarella Cheese and Fresh Spinach, Topped with a Tomato Provenciale Sauce and Melted Mozzarella 16.99
Thursday – Chicken Lasagna
Layered with Roasted Chicken Breast, Ricotta Cheese, Fresh Spinach, Onions & Mushrooms, Topped with our Crema Rosa Sauce 18.99
Friday – Eddie’s Trio
Three of our most Popular Dishes: Chicken Parmigiana, Manicotti & Fettuccine Alfredo 17.99
($5 Split Charge Includes House Salad)
Saturday – Ribeye Marsala
8 oz. Grilled U.S.D.A. Choice Ribeye Topped with a Cremini Mushroom Marsala Sauce, Served with Roasted Potatoes and Garlicky Spinach 21.99
Sunday – Sunday Gravy
Meatball, Italian Sausage & Boneless Pork Rib Simmered in our Housemade San Marzano Tomato Sauce Tossed with Rigatoni Pasta 18.99