with the stars
people ask if we get celebrities," explains Mary Bartholomew Mastricola,
AB'93, "I say: 'Define celebrity.' We don't attract a lot of movie
stars but we do have steady customers who have won the Nobel Prize,
or the Booker, or the Pulitzer. We have feasted the current and
future presidents of the University. Do they count?"
June 23, 1999, Mastricola and her husband, Michael, AB'76, opened
Hyde Park's lone French restaurant, La Petite Folie, near the
corner of 55th and Lake-the only Hyde Park restaurant to merit
two stars in the Chicago Tribune. It was a belated labor
of love. Both the Mastricolas enjoyed cooking but had demanding
jobs that were eating up all their free time. So in 1994, they
quit, moved to France for two years and enrolled at the Cordon
Bleu, the ne plus ultra of classic French cuisine. "I wanted
to learn to cook someplace like the place where I learned to read,"
chose Hyde Park because they knew the neighborhood, still had
friends here, and suspected there was no direct competition. "Restaurants
are a risky, grueling business," says Mastricola, "so we wanted
a running start at having a customer base." Hyde Park has been
"incredibly supportive," she says. "We're not really making money
yet"-that usually takes about 18 months-but "when the place runs
smoothly and there are lots of customers it's a wonderful thing
Petite Folie seats up to 64 people. Some nights the staff feeds
30, some nights 95. "Every night is different," Mastricola says.
"Business at dinner is great when there's a good play at Court
Theatre, or if the weather is lousy, but it drops when it's nice
outside. At lunch it's the exact opposite."
the right kitchen and serving personnel was also a challenge.
Unable to lure experienced people to the South Side, Mary and
her husband recruited kitchen help from the surrounding neighborhoods
and taught their young staff about the restaurant business. "We've
been really lucky," she says. "We've had virtually no attrition
in our dining-room staff and the kitchen has been stable for the
last three months."
job still eats up her whole day. The owners arrive at 9 a.m. and
leave after midnight. Ironically, they've both lost weight. The
caloric demands of cooking and serving apparently exceed the supply
from constant sampling. Despite the cheese and the cream and the
butter, and the wine, "most French chefs," Mastricola insists,
"are in extremely good shape." --J.E.