Friday, Jan 19, 2018

Dolce Bella to open in Starline

Dolce Bella.JPG
Dolce Bella is located in the Starline Factory at 300 W. Front St. HML photo by Jay Schulz

A restaurant and catering company is poised to be up and running by spring at the historic Starline Factory in Harvard.

Erin Lorenz operates the catering business Dolce Bella (“sweet and beautiful” in Italian), which soon will be headquartered at the Starline Factory. Lorenz also will open Bistro 1883, a restaurant counterpart to Dolce Bella catering and an offshoot of Dolce Bella LLC.

The bistro and catering kitchen will occupy approximately 5,000 square feet in the three-story building located at 306 W. Front St., Harvard, established in 1883.

Bistro 1883 will be a café, wine bar and coffee shop, and will serve a variety of American, Greek, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The menu consists of made-from-scratch family recipes, and many of the menu items have been in the family for generations.

Lorenz is following in the footsteps of her grandmother, an Italian immigrant who owned a successful restaurant in Rockford. Lorenz has been around the culinary industry since she was about 4 years old. She spent eight years in the Navy as a combat corpsman and would cook for her fellow corpsmen, who affectionately referred to her as “mom.” She then worked in the medical field. Ultimately she decided that she wanted to pursue a catering and restaurant business.

Lorenz has made the most of Fourth Friday art shows at the Starline Factory to exhibit the distinctive entrées of Dolce Bella so that she can gauge people’s reactions. The family background and homemade nature of Dolce Bella has attracted some Italian immigrants from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

“It’s not your normal, everyday stuff,” said Chuck Lorenz, Erin’s husband who assists with much of the labor aspect of the business. “We have had some Italians closer to the city come in for the art shows and say, ‘This is fantastic, just like my mother used to make it.’ We’ve established some positive rapport with many customers.”

Many of the food items catered by Dolce Bella, and soon to be served at Bistro 1883, are family recipes from Sicily and Florence, Italy. An old family saying has been the bedrock of Lorenz’s cooking philosophy.

“The [saying] goes, ‘The secret to your success in the kitchen is always the love that goes into your food, your hands in preparing it, and a wooden spoon,’” said Erin Lorenz.

Cooking always has been an essential ingredient in the Lorenz family. Her grandparents on both sides of the family — two Swedish and two Italian — also were steeped in the culinary arts. The cooking culture on both sides of the family was thoroughly home-based.

“We didn’t go out to eat,” Lorenz said. “Everything was made at home.”

Many of her Italian side of the family still live in Italy. They have a family farm in Florence, just outside of Tuscany, and they make their own cheeses, meats, sauces and other specialties. Lorenz never has been to the farm, but she plans to make a trip there in the future to visit her family and attend a Florentine culinary school. Lorenz plans to spend three weeks at the cooking school to further her culinary expertise.

Lorenz recalled the prevalence of cooking while growing up. When she was 5, she moved to the east coast of Massachusetts, where the distinctive seafood inspired her interest in cooking and love of food. When her family moved back to her hometown of Rockford when she was 9, Lorenz started to pay more attention to her grandmother’s cooking.

“One time I was in the kitchen making cabbage soup,” Lorenz said, “which is a staple in our house. But you can put too much cabbage in your soup, but I didn’t know that. And I was putting in too much cabbage, and my nana yelled at me in Italian, and I said, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just cabbage.’ She said, ‘No, this is important … You have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Never measure things out. A good cook never has to measure anything.’”

Lorenz does not have any of her family recipes written down, which makes her style of food preparation far removed from a cookie-cutter, automated, mass production. Her family does not approach cooking with mechanical uniformity but rather with experience and perceptiveness.

“The family recipes are just by taste, practice and repetition,” Lorenz said. “I always watch and taste it. Nothing is written down — it’s all in my head.”

Though she hopes to one day write down her family recipes for her children, for the time being she continues to prepare and cook her more than 100 family recipes on a case-by-case and taste-by-taste basis.

Orrin Kinney, owner of the Starline Factory, hopes that the opening of Bistro 1883 and Dolce Bella catering will enhance the events and functions the building frequently hosts, such as the monthly Fourth Friday art shows as well as weddings, which take place at the building about once per week on average.

“We’ve had several people who have had functions here say they would really like to see us add that to our facilities,” Kinney said. “It’s a lot of work when you have to bring in outside caterers, keep the food warm, and so forth. If we have our own [caterer] it will definitely be a benefit.”

Kinney also hopes that the opening of the bistro and catering business will attract more people from downtown Chicago and the suburbs, since the Starline Factory is located near the Harvard Metra station.