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“Life comes at you fast,” certainly not a new adage, and at times can come off a bit cliched. But the turn of phrase still has its basis in truth, particularly when it comes to being first-time restaurant owners and operators.
When Cilino’s opened its door for the first time Dec. 17, for a short three-hour soft opening ahead of their grand opening Dec. 18, the owners were blown away by the response from the local community.
“We ran out of food both times,” co-owner Jennie Kephart said.
“We’re trying to work out the kinks and figure out how much more we need to prep.”
Kephart said the restaurant has been full both days and not only have they had to recalibrate how much food they’ve had to prep, but have already gone out and hired more help to handle the traffic. Kephart said they’ve been put at the mercy of the town by the sheer response in the early days, noting it’s been stressful in the early going trying to deal with the fact everybody wanted to see what the new restaurant had to offer.
“We’ve been getting a lot of good feedback. A lot of people just saying, ‘Keep moving forward,’ and ‘Hang in there,’” Kephart said.
“We’re just trying to figure out where we can improve and what’s best for the community.”
Kephart said the learning process goes both ways with the community having to get used to a different type of restaurant. The restaurant offers traditional and homemade Italian cuisine, complete with the checkered tablecloths, with early favorites including mostaccioli and garlic bread.
“It’s not like I’m pulling something out of a box,” Kephart said. “It’s not like flipping burgers. We’re actually having to make all this stuff, like it’s something that you’d make at home. So it might take 25 minutes.”
Kephart has been focusing on the back of the house more, while fellow owner Randy Rodgers has taken to working more with the front of house staff. Kephart, working with the staff on learning the secret family recipes, said she can see that her kitchen staff has really started to buy in to their methods and can feel the excitement in the kitchen.
It’s not just about learning the menu itself either, Kephart said it’s also about, “getting the cooks to get the concept of why we’re doing this and what it is, and what it means. It’s not just a place to eat, everybody’s family.”
Rodgers’ actual family, who bring the Italian influence, were supposed to be on hand for the opening week of the business, but the California residents were hesitant about dealing with Iowa’s winter travel conditions.