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 Chicago, Chicago Magazine, The 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."