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Inovasi Owner Talks New Highland Park Restaurant

John des Rosiers took a break from overseeing the transformation of Highland Park's Moderno into the American-styled Royce to explain what he envisions for the restaurant.

Over the sounds of drilling, moving wood and shuffling feet, John des Rosiers is explaining what's next for his Highland Park restaurant.

The owner of Inovasi in Lake Bluff and Moderno in Renaissance Place in downtown Highland Park decided recently to close Moderno, an upscale Italian restaurant, and reopen it as a more approachable, family-friendly spot serving American cuisine.

"We built a really good restaurant with Moderno, and we were really proud of it," Rosiers said, "but it wasn't the right thing for Highland Park."

Moderno, the modern Italian restaurant that opened in Renaissance Place in April, closed on Dec. 22. It will reopen Jan. 10 as Royce, a chef-driven casual restaurant, with a reasonably priced menu that will include signature and build-your own burgers and a children's menu.

The switch was made in part to lure a larger portion of Highland Park to the restaurant during the week, and to take advantage of its takeout service more frequently. The space fits 210 seats and over 100 more outside.

"Because we're large we really need everyone to grab onto it," Rosiers said. "We didn't capture enough of the market here to sustain it at the size it was at."

Moderno, the chef-driven restaurant led by Rosiers, received across the board critical acclaim earlier this year, getting rave reviews from Time Out ChicagoChicago MagazineThe Sun-Times and here on Patch.

In his glowing review of Moderno, however, Patch columnist Ed Brill predicted what may have been an insurmountable obstacle for the restaurant: its limitations on the guests control over their order.

"The success or failure of [Moderno] will depend on whether or not Highland Park diners will accept a place without a Caesar salad or fried calamari, or if they are willing to eat the dishes as the kitchen envisions them," Brill wrote.

Diners seem to have been less willing to go with Moderno's concept than Rosiers would have liked. But he wants those who disliked Moderno to know that he listened to their criticisms.

"In the end that's my fault for judging the market wrong," Rosiers said.

The Royce menu will be fairly straightforward, but Rosiers is quick to point out that the ingredients will be extremely high quality, with most of them coming from local, organic farms.

"We can do really cool, fancy stuff," Rosiers said, "but we can also do really really well-done straightforward things, too."

Those better quality ingredients mean a burger will cost between $10 and $12, a tad pricier than one from Norton's or Michael's. Rosiers is convinced people will be willing to drop a few dollars more in the name of quality. He points to the $11 omelettes at Walker Brothers as an example of what people are willing to spend on something they like.

"If people are happy to pay for an $11 omelette, I think they'll be just fine paying for a $10 to $12 burger made with great ingredients," Rosiers said.

The new restaurant will have a different look, as well. It will feature softer seats, an enclosed bar instead of an open one, a different color scheme and less noise, thanks to more soundproofing. It will also be open longer hours, from noon till 9 or 10 p.m. nightly. 

"We're really excited for people to come in and see what we've listened to," Rosiers said. "This is like a second chance."

Moe @ the Buck January 04, 2013 at 03:57 PM
No offense, and I always say, when someone says no offense, they always offend someone. If i happen to get a parking spot in that area, and if I'm hungry for a burger, Im going to Michaels. At least you know what your getting for $12. Thanks Bob Levi for the great tip. I didn't know I could get breakfast at LaCasa de Isaac and Moshe. I will try it soon. Did I meet you at the Highwoods farmers market this last summer? Moe Tai's?
foodie from LF January 04, 2013 at 04:14 PM
I look forward to another great restaurant in HP. People need to be more open minded. Fresh food prepared well is what we need. Good Luck. We will come in and give it a try. John never fails.
Bob Levi January 04, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Moe, I usually get Isaac's Mexican corn on a stick at the Highwood Farmer's Market. It's delicious. I;m sure our paths crossed somewhere around town. Check out my blog site for a photo,
Moe @ the Buck January 04, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Alright foodie, I'll try it too. Thanks for the insight.
Moe @ the Buck January 04, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Bob, I usually get the steak cassadia. They are awsome in Everts park in Highwood on Wednesday nights for the farmers market.
AK January 04, 2013 at 07:16 PM
while fail when he can always BK
forest barbieri January 04, 2013 at 10:58 PM
it will reopen Jan. 10 as Royce, a "chef-driven" casual restaurant, Ok, here is a concept that just does not seem to get through them.....How about a CUSTOMER-DRIVEN casual restaurant. Your last one was chef driven, how did that work out for you? Thanks for the tip on La Casa, will try the breakfast soon as I am sure it is good.
The Male Room and More January 05, 2013 at 12:50 AM
how many burger restaurants do we need?
Moe @ the Buck January 05, 2013 at 03:39 AM
OMG. I just got out of Bridie McKenna's stopping in before Kara-moe-ke and had the "buffalo Calamari". Holy CRAP! It's too die for. I'm a wing guy. This is like the tenderloin of wings. Thanks to Scott, and josh, and the rest of the crew.
forest barbieri January 05, 2013 at 03:50 AM
Hopefully they will serve something that customers will actually want at a price that is competitive. This group seems to be all about what the Chef wants and it seems he is a legend in his own mind who assumes that whatever he dreams up or builds the customer will (maybe) follow. Unfortunately, that does not work so well as while I have no doubt he is a good chef, I do not think he has reached the point of culinary fame that people are flocking to eat "his" food. I ate it a couple of times and nothing special. I caution them to try something not so new by orienting the place to the customers they are trying to attract and not some self vision of what they decide to force on the customers. If that simply cannot work into their thinking, then try the math, 25K monthly rent, overhead, labor costs and since it seems to always be Chef Driven, I have no doubt he is a big nut on a monthly basis. Add that up and decide who you need to please to meet and surpass that number on a consistent basis month after month. Several places in HP are successful with great food and service which are customer driven rather than Chef driven. RUB, Michaels, Nortons and others that apparently they are going to try to compete with. Nonetheless, I wish them good luck and may the concept of customer driven come to them in due time.
AK January 05, 2013 at 04:03 AM
To John D R. Go after Tap House Grill and you may have a chance. Otherwise you will never make these clowns happy.
Steve S. January 05, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Casa is the best kept secret, great huevos rancheros
Bob Levi January 05, 2013 at 04:26 PM
I've know many chef/restaurant owners over the years. Most have a gigantic ego and claim to listen to customers, but really don't. Many feel they have extensive knowledge of the restaurant business and no one, I repeat, no one, call suggest anything that don't already know about the business. I've personally never met John D. R., but based on the comments made here and elsewhere, he falls in the know-it-all class of chef/owners. One exception to the above statements was Louis Sathmary chef/owner of the Bakery Restaurant in Chicago (BTW - He was probably the first "celebraty chef" and a great lover of fine dining. Plus Louis knew how to promote his restaruant and the dining experience. He also claimed to have a PhD in psycology. He opened the Bakery in 1963 with a fixed price continental menu: pate, celery root salad, entree with sides, dessert and beverage. His early seating was 90 minutes so you couldn't lineer becuase he needed the turnover. Some people didn't like this, so his place was either loved or dispised. The regulars knew to come to the last seating so they could linger. Eventually the market change: people started demanding lighrwe fare and wanted not to be rushed after dinner. So Louis realized this and just shut the restaurant rather than change the concept. One of Louis' favorite comments about restaurant critics was, "They don't know shitaki from Shinola." (Note to those under 50: ask your folks about Shinola."
Stevie Janowski January 05, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Hey John, How about some bigger portions for the high price and then ill give your restaurant a second chance. Inovsi is a joke
june luvisi January 05, 2013 at 06:37 PM
I've enjoyed many a delicious Inovasi dinner and lunch and appreciate the emphasis on fresh, locally grown foods. Especially love a juicy burger prepared from natural, uninjected cows. Hope the new Royce will have wholesome burgers on the menu and offer them with wholegrain buns.
MaryGreg@aol.com January 05, 2013 at 09:32 PM
Hands down the best restaurant in HP is Bluegrass. If any restaurant owner wants to know how to make it, they should talk to Jim and Joanie.
june luvisi January 06, 2013 at 04:54 PM
We need many more restaurants that serve ground beef made from cattle raised under health conscious standards. All beef used to be raised this way, and I'm old enough to remember. In general, burgers tasted much better, and what's better than a really good burger?
AK January 06, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Before i spend any money in the new shop I want to make sure the cow was from the Lake County and chef personally killed it in the humane way right after he fed it with the fresh and never injected grass. I also wouldn't want to spend any time in the place with injected customers. l
Joe January 08, 2013 at 02:44 AM
How many over-priced specialty stores by spoiled housewives do we need?
Joe January 08, 2013 at 02:48 AM
I just looked at the menu. Actually, the burger prices range from $9-14, not 12-15. Perhaps all the "experts" should wait for the place to open before trashing it. Too much time on one's hands.
LB Res January 08, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Will my Moderno gift cards work at Royce or am SOL?
AK January 08, 2013 at 03:14 PM
I don't know what is so significant about Moderno/Royce and the owner, but these restaurant article keep everyone so upbeat :) You can apply for a job with new venture as it appears everyone is gone and/or canned by John D R. I get it now: it was their fault he failed the first time. http://chicago.craigslist.org/nch/fbh/3501946383.html http://chicago.craigslist.org/nch/fbh/3517559097.html If I was was the boss I would at least concentrate on hiring local youth and train them, so he could attract the right crowd into his new organic venture. Maybe he would get some lost respect back too... which translates into extra pesos.
Ben Dover January 10, 2013 at 05:14 AM
Like your kids (youth) have a job, or would independently seek employment. Oh! Wait! You're a cheapskate!!!! I get it now. "Pinch a quarter till the eagle squawks pal"
AK January 10, 2013 at 03:54 PM
They do, but it is not the point here. And the point is... why fix stupid?
P G Gardener January 12, 2013 at 09:03 AM
Having dined at Royce tonight, I found the food average to well done. The decor, while warm and inviting at first, haunted me through the night. I couldn't put my finger on it and it hit me just now. It reminds me of POW camps depicted in war movies. Does anyone else get that impression? I am interested to know.
A concerned DHS Parent January 12, 2013 at 06:41 PM
$19 for half a chicken! Should be interesting.
forest barbieri January 18, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Likely another empty space once the lease commitment is up. Does anyone know if Panera is really coming?
Dave February 04, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Just love people like Bob Levi, who not only had his facts on the prices off but decided to review a restaurant before it even opened. And for Forest, you seem to have an ax to grind against the owner of Royce. My family and I have been there 3 times, and although it it still new, both the service and the food was terrific.
Bob Levi February 04, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Dave, I took the prices for the Royce online menu. Perhaps the owner realized his quoted prices were too high and lowered them without changing the online menu. Or else he low-balled the prices in the article just to get new customers. As a business consultant for many years, I've dealt only with facts. Otherwise, one cannot advise their clients on new, diversified opportunities to persue. So I just call it the way I see it. I clearly state in my 1/5 post above that I don't know the owner. However, any chef who claims he's going to teach the North Shore residents about good food certainly has an ego issue IMHO.
PAM February 09, 2013 at 04:16 AM
I was there tonight and it was very disappointing. When we ordered we asked 3 times that the fish be cooked well done. It was not. It came raw. It may have been frozen. I don't know. And shouldn't they ask you if you want the bone removed? I will never be back.

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