When Chef Chris Barth opened his second Retro Bistro in Crystal Lake on June 15, he at first didn't realize the significance of the day.
It happened to be when he and two partners opened the first Retro Bistro in 1990 in Mount Prospect.
This time, it was just Barth and his wife, with the help of video calling that connects them to both restaurants to keep things operating smoothly, he said.
"When you're a family-owned business, things are very different from a corporate-owned restaurant," Barth said. "If we had been corporate owned, we may have closed our doors years ago, but we hung in there," said Barth, 49, of Mount Prospect." I'm proud to be an independent, family-owned business. It distinguishes us from one fast-food restaurant after another or corporate-owned restaurants."
Family also influenced how Barth learned to cook, which has led to a lifelong career in restaurants.
He and his twin brother, Tyler, were raised in Barrington, where his family loved to entertain. His mother also loved watching all the cooking shows on TV and trying new recipes. It became a major influence on Barth, who learned how to make stuffed shells, beef Wellington and other dishes that most 10- to 12-year-olds didn't cook.
"My mom would just love to get out the cookbook and try new things," he said. "I just loved it."
While his brother went on to become owner of Illinois
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Blower Inc., a Cary-based maker of industrial fans and blowers, Barth worked at a variety of restaurants until he got what he considered his first real job at D&J Bistro in Lake Zurich. That's where he met Dominique Legeai, a French-trained chef, and Mastato Szuki, a French-trained Japanese chef.
Barth, who also trained in Paris, was of Polish descent and they all learned from each other.
But at the tender age of 22, Barth partnered with Legeai and Szuki to open Retro Bistro in Mount Prospect in 1990.
"They were wonderful mentors to me," he said.
And it proved fateful. Barth met his future wife, Lorraine, through her parents, who owned D&J Bistro.
Lorraine, like Barth, had graduated from Kendall College and loved restaurants. They married and raise a son and daughter.
About 18 years ago, Barth bought out his partners at the Mount Prospect restaurant and became the full owner with his wife because he "loved the look and feel of high-end cuisine served in a casual way," he said.
He and Lorraine, 44, also enjoyed trips to France to research food trends and realized how simply prepared foods, from farm-to-table, were the best way to go.
Now that his son C.J., 22, and his daughter, Nicollete, 15, are involved in the restaurant, Barth feels they have a good outlook to carry on his legacy. Lorraine mostly manages the restaurant in Mount Prospect w
while Chris Barth focuses on Crystal Lake. Each restaurant has about 20 employees.
"There's no better feeling than making people happy. and I'm addicted to that. That's why I do this."
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