Friday Fail with Café L’Appetito: The Value of Knowing Your Business DNA
It seems like everything is on the fast track for Licia Accardo and Tony Spatara, owners of Cafe L'Appetito in Chicago. The siblings assumed ownership of the family restaurant in 2010 after their dad, Anthony Spatara, passed away. The restaurant turns 40 this year, a feat very few small business owners achieve, let alone those run by the second generation. In addition to the Gold Coast and West Loop locations, Accardo and Spatara have expanded Café L'Appetito to multiple satellite locations, including Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Soldier Field, United Center, and Midway Airport. Plus, the siblings added a booming catering operation.
But hard work doesn't always take the prize.
Take It to the ‘Burbs
After establishing a reputation throughout Chicago as a unique Italian cultural and food experience, Anthony Spatara envisioned a new location in the suburbs. “We thought about doing a Café L'Appetito in the suburb that we live in,” said daughter Licia Accardo. “We always saw this one space; they were going to revitalize the downtown area and this space was perfect.”
The idea was that Accardo, then a mom of two small children, would enjoy a shorter commute, more time with the family, and leverage her connection to the community where she lived. Spatara, Sr. thought the revitalized suburban enclave would become a “destination” and deliver similar foot traffic and comparable high-volume sales as the downtown location. But the father-daughter team learned quickly that the city concept—a one-stop Italian experience featuring a deli, coffee bar, Italian goods, and more—didn’t translate to the suburbs.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Change the Concept
The suburban location offered a high-quality product, competitive prices, convenient parking, and the undeniable passion of the two owners. Yet after two years of a five-year lease, Accardo and her father relented. The original Café L’Appetito concept, which was wildly successful in the city, was simply not working in the suburbs.
According to Accardo, the father and daughter shared the same “stubbornness DNA” and were not ready to concede defeat. They decided to change the concept to a sit-down restaurant. “He (Spatara Sr.) wanted to take the existing space and try and do whatever we could to generate more business,” said Accardo. Unfortunately, the duo couldn’t muster the same passion for what Accardo described as a “full sit-down, white tablecloth restaurant with a bar and a waitstaff.”
You Be You
The new concept failed to capture enough business to remain viable, and the family made the gut-wrenching decision to close the suburban location and refocus energy on the city locations. Accardo considers the experience a necessary, yet painful, lesson as a small business owner.
“You don't want to be something that you're not, and that was the perfect example,” said Accardo. “It's not our concept and we really need to stay true to our concept, and that's what people love.”
Their concept is one of quality and consistency and that concept has proven successful. “So many of our customers knew my dad very well, and they knew that he was always there watching over everything,” said Accardo. “You can't really go anywhere else in the city and get what you get at our restaurant. I think that makes us stand out.”
At 40 years and counting, it’s clear this is nothing like the Café L’Appetito experience.
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