It's been 50 years since Frank "Fritz" Ravanelli and his wife, Betty, opened their spaghetti and pizza eatery in Granite City. Today, the business thrives under their son Terry and his two business partners, who have since opened two additional restaurants. They continue to serve the homemade dishes that Fritz Ravanelli first concocted five decades ago. Business writer Will Buss recently visited Terry Ravanelli at his O'Fallon restaurant to talk about his business and its history:
Q: Why did your family become restaurateurs?
A: "My dad grew up in the coal mines and the steel mill and liked to cook. He decided to open up his little spaghetti and pizza shop in Granite City. Then Granite was growing and he built his first restaurant."
Q: Where is your family from?
A: "We just came from Wilsonville, a small town of about 300 people near the Gillespie and Bunker Hill area. My dad went from the coal mines to the steel mill and worked at the steel mill (in Granite City) for 20 years. He was driving 45 minutes to an hour every day to work. He decided to open a little shop and started cooking. He started his little shop in Granite City and we have been there ever since."
Q: Have you always been involved in the business?
A: "After I got out of high school and college, I became an artist and went that direction for 20 years. I had worked for him all through my teenage years, and so did my partners. Everybody worked for my dad at one point or another, it seems like. It's like it was a stepping stone for everyone in the town."
Q: When did you get back into the business?
A: "After he retired, some people took over for a few years, but it didn't work out. My dad approached me and my partners, Steve Edwards and Bill Bush, one day and said, 'You guys have been with me since you were all through high school.' Steve went on to chef school and became an executive chef at so many places and Bill kind of stayed in the restaurant and actually wanted to buy it from the other group, but things didn't work out. So my dad said, 'You three get together with my name and Steve's chef ability and Bill's dining experience and bring the family name back.' We opened back up at the end of '98."
Q: Has the restaurant always operated in Granite City?
A: "Yes. That was the original one. It is the only non-free-standing building. It's in a strip mall, and my dad moved in when they built it."
Q: Is that where he started the restaurant?
A: "In '64, he only had a little bitty pizza shop next to a gas station. There were no tables, just a little carryout place. Then when Granite City started growing and when they built the shopping center, he got one of the first spots and has been there ever since."
Q: When was that?
A: "Probably around '70."
Q: How has business gone since you took over?
A: "We got it back going really good. Everything was really nice. We decided to build in Collinsville. So we had Granite City and Collinsville. Then, my partner Steve wanted to just keep going and wanted to have as many restaurants that he could. He came to O'Fallon and had another theme and opened a restaurant called Outlaw Blues. It was kind of Cajun Louisiana-type restaurant. He decided after a few years there that we would make it Ravanelli's and I would go back in with him. We have three of them now. That's where we're at. We have our three locations and we're trying to be part of the community."
Q: What has kept you in business for 50 years?
A: "We still make everything from scratch that we can, like all of our soups to sauces. We have formed a fairly nice catering business from out Granite City kitchen because it has the biggest kitchen. We've kind of carried on the tradition my dad always had. He always liked to serve bigger portions. When you come in here, it's always a three-course meal. You always get soup, always get salad you always get an entree and we make all of our deserts. So you come out full. You can't go into any other place and get all of that. The salad is either separate or the soup is something different. So I don't know if that is something that has kept this going. We have always been a family place. We've tried to keep a family atmosphere. We never had a bar. We never wanted that headache. It might have been a mistake because liquor is where you make the most money. But when we took over (Outlaw Blues in O'Fallon), he had built a bar. This is our only place with bar. We also have a outdoor patio and private party rooms."
Q: What is the most popular item on your menu?
A: "We're famous for chicken, even thought it's an Italian restaurant. We have great pastas, hand-cut steaks and everybody loves our chicken for some reason. So we concentrate on that. My dad started with pasta and pizza and he expanded on that and started making chicken, too. Steve has great ideas. He's a good chef and we have expanded from there. But it's still you basic comfort family menu. Pasta, steak, chicken and pizza."
Q: What do you want this restaurant to be?
A: "I think what Ravanelli's wants to be and has been over the years is ... the feeling that you're coming to a family restaurant that is part of the community. I like to see regulars, where everybody knows each other and we really get involved in the community. We do a lot school functions and activities in Collinsville and Granite City, where we have been so long and have done all of the major events. We do the mayor's prayer breakfast and Rotary Club every month and all of the different business meetings and catering. That's what I want to start to do in O'Fallon and create just a sense of family. There are chains in every city and they do a good job and they're consistent, probably more consistent than us. But they're opening packages and throwing food in the microwave. I never wanted to be that way. I wanted everything homemade and everything family-orriented."
Name: Terry Ravanelli
Job: Co-owner, Ravanelli's Restaurant at 3 American Village in Granite City, 26 Collinsport Dr. in Collinsville and 1214 Central Park Dr. in O'Fallon (www.ravanellis.com)
Outlook: "I kind of want to leave the feeling that you're coming to a family restaurant that is part of the community."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.