MUSCATINE — After working in the restaurant business since he was a teenager, Elez “Eli” Ilazi has started his own.
Ilazi opened RED Berry Café on Monday in the former Brickhouse Diner at 710 Grandview Ave. and already the place is packed.
“Everybody is satisfied. Everybody loves it so far,” he said.
Just by word-of-mouth Ilazi said the café had a strong opening day and the number of customers had doubled the second. A Facebook page was set up for the restaurant, but no other advertising was done before opening day.
Ilazi said he wanted the first day to “start slow so we can get situated.”
Being a part of the community is a big part of his plan.
At 18, Ilazi started working for his father, Izer Ilazi in 2006 at Tipton Family Restaurant. Ilazi said his father started his first restaurant after moving in the early 2000s to Wisconsin from Macedonia. Ilazi, now co-owner, said the restaurant in Tipton is going on 13 years in the community and he has a similar goal for RED Berry Café.
“That’s my goal: quick customer service, make great food, make everybody satisfied — I try always to understand the town,” he said. “That’s what I’ve learned in Tipton: always try to understand the people — try to make them feel comfortable — make them feel like they’re family.”
Family is in the details. In addition to his father and wife working at the Tipton restaurant, his brother-in law also works there and his sister Nora helps out. The restaurant is named after the youngest members of the family.
“R stands for Rilan, my little boy, E stands for Eldion, my older boy and D stands for my niece, her name is Diara," he said.
The updated café serves a full breakfast and lunch menu with fresh items to draw a younger crowd, Ilazi said. The menus include omelettes, breakfast sandwiches and crepes, and burgers, sandwiches and soups. The café is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.
"You’re going to have customers that complain but you have to read their mind, try to comply, see what you did wrong, make them feel comfortable to come back," he said.
Customer service is important to Ilazi, but so is a good looking restaurant and he made several changes to the former diner to make it "more welcoming — not boring." He had the carpet replaced with wood, changed the booths and painted the brick with some white paint to give the dining area a lighter feel.
Ilazi is excited about the new restaurant, but it also makes him nervous. In Tipton, he was able to work with his wife, Abby, every day and his house wasn’t far from the restaurant. Now, he has to be away from his wife and two young sons, commute nearly 40 miles every day. He also has to be available to drive back if he’s needed in the other restaurant or in case of an emergency.
“For example, during the school year, they call, she has to go in, I’m going to be here,” he said.
Ilazi thinks RED Berry’s first year will be hard until he figures everything out, but he’s looking to be in Muscatine for a long time.
“I just hope this town gives me a chance to prove that I can do good,” he said.