Vernon Hills eatery offers food with side of entertainment
Vernon Hills police officer Jim Koch and Tammi Ciciora of Tom and Eddie's serve a table at the Vernon Hills restaurant Saturday. (Customer, seated to the right is Dave Crisp of Grayslake.) Vernon Hills officers were acting as servers as part of a "Burgers
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:09AM
VERNON HILLS — Ed Rensi sat down at a table at Tom & Eddie’s and placed his order. He wanted five forks and six packets of Heinz ketchup, served on a white plate.
Rensi is the “Eddie” in Tom & Eddie’s, so the staff delivered the order and nobody asked why.
Then, Rensi realized he forgot one ingredient: a bottle of Heinz’s organic ketchup. He got up and grabbed it himself — from the shelf by two soda fountains filled with sundry brands of barbecue, steak and hot sauces.
Like everything else Tom & Eddie’s serves, Rensi and partner Tom Dentice take sauce seriously.
“Food is no longer nutrition, it’s entertainment,” said Rensi, explaining that families are turning to eating out as a replacement for more expensive amusement options. “No one can afford anything else.”
Rensi and Dentice opened their fourth restaurant Sept. 1 of last year at 1260 S. Milwaukee Ave., in Vernon Hills. They celebrated their first anniversary Saturday, Sept. 1, by teaming up with the Vernon Hills Police Department to put on a fund-raiser for Special Olympics.
During its first year in Vernon Hills, Tom & Eddie’s also brought in a Stevenson High School business class and several nonprofit agencies for events. Rensi explained that he and Dentice firmly believe it’s important for a business to endear itself to its communities.
“It’s just a way to encourage people to come in, so we can raise some money,” he said.
Sharon Joseph, public information officer for the Vernon Hills Police Department, said department appreciated Dentice and Rensi’s willingness. Saturday’s event featured officers waiting on customers and bussing tables, in uniform, but their tips and 10 percent of the restaurant’s sales on the day will go to Special Olympics.
“I think it’ll feel a little awkward, but it’s for a good cause,” Joseph said before the event.
The awkwardness continued when the ketchup and spoons that Rensi ordered arrived at his table. He squeezed a small mound of the organic variety out of the bottle, then pushed a lump of traditional ketchup out of a large, one-ounce packet.
They both look like ketchup, but Rensi advised waiting a second. He pointed out that the regular ketchup starts to turn runny, with water beginning to separate from the rest of the mound. The organic stays inert.
“I’m a big fan of using as many all-natural and all-organic products as we can,” said Rensi, explaining the reason for his ketchup antics.
“The flavor is so different,” he added.
Rensi then welcomed a new soda vendor in to the restaurant. He and Dentice are planning to add grown-up ice cream floats with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and none of the flavors in the two existing soda fountains are perfect for them.
The vendor brought a can a whipped cream from a grocery store along with her sodas. Rensi quickly placed a new order with his staff — a can of whipped cream from the fridge — and instructed the vendor to put her store-bought can away before customers see it. He knows that brand, and he knows what is wrong with it: too much coconut oil, Rensi said.
The ideal combination of tastes is crucial, Rensi explained, in making Tom & Eddie’s different from local families’ other eating and entertaining options.
That kind of focus on quality goes deep into Tom & Eddie’s ingredient list and business model.
“But at the end of the day, it’s expensive, and commodity prices are going crazy,” Rensi added.
Tom & Eddie’s seats 120 in its 3,000 square foot space and patio. Dentice and Rensi picked the still-developing corner of Route 45 and Milwaukee Avenue because of its high visibility, highlighted by their orange awnings and umbrellas, and the demographics of drivers passing through the area.
“It’s a perfect location,” Rensi said.