Restaurant Spotlight: Cafe Mezzanotte
Restaurant Spotlight: Cafe Mezzanotte
760 Ritchie Hwy, Severna Park, MD 21146 | cafemezzanotte.com
We had the pleasure of speaking with Cafe Mezzanotte owner Tommie Koukoulis about what makes the restaurant different, how they’re contributing to the community, and what drives him to success.
What makes Cafe Mezzanotte unique?
First and foremost, we are proudly an Italian restaurant. While there are other Italian restaurants, what’s unique about our style of Italian is tell that we really toe that line between honoring authentic traditional dishes and proving some innovative new modern takes. So, it’s kind of like a car dealership in that sense.
When you look at our menu, you can go with the classics like the parmigianas. Or, you can try some of our really innovative stuff like seared summer scallops and that sort of thing.
What makes us unique from all restaurants is the quality of the food and ingredients we use. For over five years now, we’ve been really focused on locally sourced, chemical free, and organic foods. In fact, we buy the bulk of our ingredients within 100 miles of the restaurant, and most of it from within 50 miles of the restaurant.
Also, we work with a couple of different organic co-ops made up of 75 to 100 small farmers each. That allows us to hit that sweet spot of both organic and local. For us, being able to trace where our food comes from, how it was grown, and how recently it was harvested is something that sets us apart from a lot of the other restaurants in the area.
How do you involve yourself within the community?
You know at one time, it really was a question I had to ask myself. Both personally and spiritually as it relates to the restaurant. “How does my business contribute to the betterment of the world?”
One way that we found that we can really help is by being a fundraising tool, and an awareness-raising tool. So we’ve partnered with a nonprofit called UEmpower of Maryland to create and manage a free, food-focused education and training center for kids in Southwest Baltimore. We’ve taken over a surplus school that used to be the Samuel F. B. Morse Elementary School, and now we operate a place called The Food Project.
It’s open 5 days a week for breakfast and dinner. Every day is a different chef, restauranteur, or urban farmer doing a food focused demonstration. We’ve also got a couple social enterprises working out of the kitchen there that employs kids and moms from that neighborhood. It’s in the zip code of 21223 in Southwest Baltimore which is technically the poorest zip code in all of Maryland.
So a lot of times when it comes to us as a people as to how do we help, the challenge is “how do we find the need that’s real?” That’s a big question. Well here, The Food Project is in ground zero of where the need is. We not only partner with them by doing their monthly pop-up restaurant, donating to them, and sending our chefs and myself down there to do demos, but we do what we call the Roundup which is here at Mezzanotte and at all of our restaurants.
The Roundup is where we add in a match of a couple pennies per check. Here, it’s fifty cents. At other restaurants, it’s a quarter. We add and match it to every check as a donation to The Food Project. It’s written on our menu, it’s in the check presenter, and it’s on the check itself. It’s not something that we shy away from. We advertise it and want to raise awareness of The Food Project too.
Just by these $0.25 and $0.50 donations, we’re raising over a thousand dollars per month per restaurant to go to The Food Project. That’s real, sustainable fundraising because every month, they’re getting that extra shot of $1,000 to $1,500 dollars.
Plus, a lot of people want to donate more than the $0.50 to the project or they want to get involved. We’ve had a lot of our guests and a lot of my staff volunteer to go down there and do this.
What do you enjoy most at this point?
Hard to say number one. The one thing I love the most at this level is interacting with our guests.
Although I’m not present in any of my restaurants enough, when I am present and I’m able to interact with the guests, it’s more enjoyable than ever. Partly because I can’t do it as much as I used to, but I love talking to people about where the food comes from, how it was made, and what the inspiration behind the dish was. I love talking to guests and getting some new ideas about what they want or what they think would be cool.
On the business side, I love molding my management team into leaders. I can’t always be as hands on as I’d like to, but I can help to create the right kind of leader.
Ultimately, my favorite part of the job is probably R&D. To get to go out and dine and experience other people and other restaurants, and be able to come back with fresh ideas.
What’s next for Cafe Mezzanotte?
We just renovated a less than a year ago, so Mezzanotte is in good shape right now. We also just opened Craft two weeks ago.
Really, I want to expand our off-premise catering programming at Mezzanotte. But to be completely honest, I want to spend the next 6 to 12 months just focusing on our existing restaurants, making them the best they can be. They’re already excellent and great, but we can always become better. My focus is not to expand in the next 12 months, but rather improve what we have and just make it the best it can be. And then after those 12 months, we’ll get back to expansion!
About Restaurant Week
Star Spangled Restaurant Week is an event hosted by the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce. The 2019 event will be held from July 7th through 13th with over 15 restaurants participating. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for the latest news and updates!
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