You read a lot about women who are chefs: boss ladies at the helm of the kitchen, following in the footsteps of Lidia Bastianich and Alice Waters to dominate the culinary scene one James Beard Award at a time. You don’t hear as often though, about the women who keep the ships running smoothly (I really don’t know why I’m using all of these boat metaphors right now) behind the scenes.
Christine Tully Aranza has worked in almost every facet of the restaurant business: she worked her way up from hostess to server to Maitre d’ to manager throughout Chicago’s restaurants, eventually landing at Spiaggia & Café Spiaggia heading up all operations. While at Spiaggia she also shaped the marketing program and acted as the project manager for the award-winning Spiaggia Cookbook, so it’s safe to say that she understands what it takes to please diners and keep them returning again and again.
So, in 2010 she and her husband John purchased a small storefront with the idea of collaborating with some of their most talented former colleagues to bring a vibrant neighborhood café to an underserved area. After a complete renovation of the space, Autre Monde Café opened in 2011 with Dan Pancake & Beth Partridge in the kitchen creating inventive Mediterranean plates from the best artisan and organic ingredients.
We chatted with Christine about what it’s like to build a thriving restaurant from, almost literally, the ground up.
What was your first job out of college?
I started working in the restaurant business as a hostess while at Loyola Chicago, so it’s safe to say I liked it since I am still in that business today. I was immediately sucked into the restaurant world.
What led you to the job you have now?
I have spent my career in restaurants, it is one of those businesses that chooses you I think, it was just a fit for me. Over the years I have worn many hats within the business and even worked for a brief time outside of it but I always came home to restaurants. My current restaurant evolved out of a desire to bring what I know makes for a great dining experience back to my own community, this is a very personal project for me.
How do you start each day?
We are only open for dinner except on Sundays which is a luxury. I can work from home most days and I get a lot of my planning and marketing work done in that time. The day starts with coffee and email – weather permitting on our deck and a discussion with my husband (and business partner) about the day ahead. Lately I have been making time for meditation first thing in the morning which is really helpful in setting the right perspective for the day. We have a house full of dogs so they usually dictate that their needs get taken care of first then its on to us.
What does your typical work day look like?
Exercise & Office work at home in the morning, which lets us spend time with our dogs too, then meetings in the afternoon and some time on the floor in the evenings talking with our guests and team. I always try to make pre-shift meetings when I can. Its such an important part of the daily back and forth and I love to share everything we are planning with them, they are a great sounding board.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I have been lucky to have some great mentors and a lot of good advice. I think the advice that had the greatest truth to it however is – The only thing in life you can count on is change. It helps you accept that while its good to plan and execute life is full of curveballs and surprises – good and bad and how you deal with them is what matters.
It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. What’s in your glass?
Wines from the Jura in Eastern France (my sommelier husband has me obsessed with these at the moment) or a killer cocktail from our amazing bar manager Becci Visconti West…….that is unless I am working…
What is your favorite thing to cook or bake for guests?
I love simplicity at home so in summer we grill everything or make simple pastas and in Chicago in winter I braise a lot of things. Although I am a pretty good cook, people usually come to our house for the wine – my husband and I have been building our cellar together for 20 years. It’s not huge but it is very well curated.
What is your favorite room of your home and why?
My Sunroom…..its all in the name!
If you could hop on a plane and go anywhere right now, where would you go and why?
Marrakech. I have a darling friend there who is building up her housewares business and am dying to go hunt the flea markets with her.
What is the one thing on your bucket list you most look forward to?
Having even more time to travel and write about it as I get older. I think I appreciate it more now and take away different things from it. Each trip leaves me changed and I love that.