Notos To Open Wine Cellar

September 9, 2005
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CASCADE — Noto’s Old World Italian Dining, which has more than doubled its size over the past 18 months, plans to open a large wine cellar later this year.

The wine cellar that’s now taking shape in the basement of the restaurant at 6600 28th St. SE has the flavor of a 15th century monastery. The cellar will house an array of fine Italian wines for sale to restaurant patrons, as well as the general public.

A series of connected brick archways with domed ceilings separates the cellar space into eight semi-private dining areas. The archways and domes were constructed with 100-year-old reclaimed “Chicago commons” bricks, which are hand-molded bricks known for their unique clay coloration.

In addition to its “centuries old” ambiance, the wine cellar will offer a different sort of dining experience — a more upscale “chef’s menu” from its own kitchen rather than the restaurant menu used upstairs, said co-owner Tom Noto. Guests will choose from two or three main entrees and anywhere from five to nine courses to complement them.

On the opposite end of the dining area will be a retail display of fine wines. The restaurant already has more than 5,000 bottles of wine in stock, and Noto expects the list will expand further.

“The main reason for adding the wine cellar is that our wine list has grown tremendously,” Noto said. “Our wine list has been recognized nationally by Wine Spectator magazine.

“We’re also going to start with about a dozen of our most requested food items from the restaurant — some bottled salad dressings, sauces and spice mixes we’ve created.”

Noto’s operates with a team of five executive chefs whose work has expanded with the recent addition of larger banquet facilities.

The original 18,000-square-foot building housing Noto’s restaurant, lounge and banquet rooms has been expanded to nearly 43,000 square feet. It now features banquet facilities that can accommodate small business or social gatherings of 20 to 40 people or large groups of up to 700 for weddings and other occasions.

Noto said the restaurant’s dining areas, too, are available for groups of up to 40. There’s also a special “tower room” strictly for business meetings. Banquet facilities on the second floor include an open lobby area that overlooks a circular stairway of Italian marble connecting the first and second floors and a two-story wall of glass on the south side that brings the out-of-doors indoors.

The second floor banquet room features a black granite dance floor. The entire room is available or it can be divided into three banquet spaces.

For use of the banquet facilities, Noto’s provides all food, service and beverages for any event held on the premises, and a guaranteed food and beverage minimum must be met. If the event total, before tax and service, is below the minimum, a room charge equal to the difference will be applied.

“We try to do everything on a food and beverage minimum so we’re not charging ‘rent,’” Noto said. “We try not to be landlords. We’re in the hospitality business — food and beverage service is what we’re here for and that’s what we want to do.”

Upon opening the new banquet facilities in May, Noto’s discontinued its off-premises catering business, but still donates its catering services to special events for the March of Dimes and

United Way
, he said.

As it is now, banquet rentals generate 60 percent of Noto’s overall dollar volume; the restaurant business generates 40 percent. Noto envisions the banquet side growing to as much as 75 percent of the business, but noted that the wine cellar sales and dining facilities will add to revenues on the restaurant side of the business. The wine cellar is the most expensive square footage in the entire building, he said.

Noto’s prides itself on being one of the few remaining local independent restaurants, and one of the few restaurants that still makes everything from scratch – from breads to entrees to desserts.

“Everything we serve here is made here. That was a promise we made ourselves 22 years ago. We felt that if we ever got to a point that we couldn’t personally make the food we serve, then it was time for us to get out of the business.”

Tom Noto’s father, John Noto, was a tool and die maker with Steelcase who owned a small coffee shop on Division Avenue years ago and dreamed of becoming a restaurateur. He got the family into the restaurant business in 1979 as a partner in the former Roaring Twenties restaurant. In 1982 the Noto family struck out on its own, with a food cart on Monroe Mall and a video arcade in Standale that quickly morphed into a pizza and sub shop and, later, into the full-service Johnny Noto’s Italian Restaurante.

Noto’s Old World Italian Dining was the final step in the restaurant’s evolution, and Tom, along with his mother, Mary, brother, Tony, and sister, Joann, carry on the family tradition to this day.

“We started almost 22 years ago in the food business,” Tom Noto recalled. “Our first night in the food business we sold four pizzas.

“Some people believe the days of the American dream are in the past. That’s not true. It still happens today, as long as people are willing to work hard enough and long enough to make it happen.”    

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