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Dining with the stars

AT A GLANCE...
> > Hyde Park--turning the corner
> > Kenwood--an anchor to bank on
> > Dining with the stars

> > Back to the main story

"When 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?"

image: Mastricola

On 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," says Mastricola.

They 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 to do."

La 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."

Finding 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."

Mary's 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.

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  JUNE 2000
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