ARCHIVED  January 1, 1996

Joe brings ’em in

Customers feel warm, welcome at Joe’s Fireside Cafe

Sunday mornings, Joe’s Fireside Cafe is packed, serving 400 breakfasts on this one morning.
While the restaurant staff efficiently fills customer requests, the atmosphere remains friendly and relaxed. Owner Joe Ierisi welcomes and enjoys the intense level of energy and the opportunity to interact with his customers. He knows what his customersexpect and is determined not to disappoint them.
“We’re busy,” he said, “but we can’t mess up. When we tell our customers there’s a 15-minute wait, they know there will be a 15-minute wait.”
Ierisi’s restaurant experience began at age 11 when his father purchased an International House of Pancakes franchise in Florida. His responsibilities ranged from washing dishes and waiting tables to learning the detailed logistics of running the operation. By the time he was ready to open his own restaurant 17 years later, he had a wealth of practical knowledge in all aspects of the business.
Joe’s Fireside Cafe first opened in January 1983 (behind Aggie Travel) with a capacity of 44 seats. Within six years, he expanded to his current location at 238 S. College Ave., doubling his restaurant’s seating capacity. Ierisi channels all his talent and much of his energy into making his cafe the place people think of when they want a special breakfast or lunch. He knows the food he offers is excellent. His chef prepares dishes from scratch, not pre-processed ingredients, and makes special sauces fresh daily.
Though he has a full-time chef and kitchen manager, Ierisi is ready to put on the chef’s hat at a moment’s notice. He has, in fact, sometimes taken over kitchen responsibilities for weeks or even months during employee turnover or illness. But kitchen work takes him from his customers, and Ierisi’s special talent is making his customers feel welcome and satisfied.
“If a customer doesn’t like a dish, even if it’s what he ordered,” Ierisi said, “we’ll take it back and bring him something else.”
With the proliferation of the chain restaurant in the ’90s, Ierisi found his niche in offering not only consistently excellent food and service, but also in giving special attention to his customers. As the owner of a single-location, independent restaurant, he’s able to indulge in the part of the business he loves most – the dynamics of a busy morning.
“Sunday Morning is show time,” Ierisi said. “This is my greatest joy – watching it all come together.”
In January 1994, Joe’s Fireside Cafe was experiencing growing pains, and Ierisi, confident in his restaurant-management skills, decided to make the move to a larger place at 4200 S College Ave. The new restaurant, Joe’s Other Side, was open seven days a week, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and bar service.
To be successful, the new restaurant was dependent on finances from the sale of his north-side business. He had a sale lined up before the restaurant move, but the expected contract fell through. Trying to start the new restaurant on the far south side while the old location stood empty for seven months was too much of a financial burden, so Ierisi made the decision to return to his former location. Keeping both places was not an option; it wouldn’t allow him the close customer relations he values so highly.
“It’s so good to be back here,” Ierisi said of the experience and his decision to move back north. Ierisi has a somewhat Darwinian approach to competition, reflecting perhaps his education for his master’s degree in philosophy and religious studies.
He claims to be his own biggest competitor and critic and knows that only if he does his best will he survive in the demanding restaurant business. He focuses on the details the large chains can’t match. As important as the quality of the food he serves is the atmosphere in which it is served.
“There is a feeling here, an intangible quality that people seem to appreciate,” Ierisi said.
And, of course, it is his customers who are the final critics. He knows the value of good employees in maintaining his record of success. With an average of 16 employees, one-half of whom are full-time, Ierisi regards his staff like a family unit. He quickly defuses the occasional tensions that arise between kitchen and dining-room staff and notes that his mood is reflected in the attitudes of his employees.
Rayno Seaser, board member of the Larimer County Restaurant Association and co-owner of The Egg and I, finds Joe’s Fireside Cafe is healthy competition for his own business and other independents.
“Joe does a great job,” Seaser said. “He’s more of a friend than a competitor. You can’t get to know the managers of the large chains like you can the independents.”
Jeff Goldberg of In The City Cafe agrees. “Joe’s Fireside is a great breakfast and lunch restaurant. The competition is very healthy,” he said.
For Ierisi, Joe’s Fireside Cafe is a medium for creativity. He describes it as his classroom, his canvas, his church and his stage. In his classroom, he becomes the teacher, showing his staff how to prepare a new dessert or demonstrating the fine art of making a customer feel welcome and appreciated.
On his canvas, he creates a new masterpiece, perhaps a colorful Southwestern breakfast entree. In his church, he is a minister of good will, treating his staff and customers with respect and kindness. And on the stage, he presents the combined talents of his entire staff in his labor of love.
Ierisi has found that the most meaningful lessons have been through trial and error and the hard work of having his own business. He has advice for independents in business planning.
“Never make a move without enough capital,” he said. “Ideas always take more money and more time than planned. But the ’90s are the time of win/win situations. Everyone can benefit from a good business.”

Customers feel warm, welcome at Joe’s Fireside Cafe

Sunday mornings, Joe’s Fireside Cafe is packed, serving 400 breakfasts on this one morning.
While the restaurant staff efficiently fills customer requests, the atmosphere remains friendly and relaxed. Owner Joe Ierisi welcomes and enjoys the intense level of energy and the opportunity to interact with his customers. He knows what his customersexpect and is determined not to disappoint them.
“We’re busy,” he said, “but we can’t mess up. When we tell our customers there’s a 15-minute wait, they know there will be a 15-minute wait.”
Ierisi’s restaurant experience began at age 11…

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