Zak Rotello knows all things beer and Tour de North End. We sat down with him and talked about The Olympic, Rockford, beer and bikes.
Name: Zak Rotello
Job: Beer Director at The Olympic Tavern (2327 N. Main St., Rockford)
QUESTION: How did the Olympic get started?
ANSWER: My grandfather, Anthony Rotello, founded The Olympic Tavern in 1945. Previously, it was a corner store/tavern called Mutimer's. My father, Thomas Rotello, also grew up in the business and has grown it from a 30-seat neighborhood pub to a full-service restaurant with great outdoor dining and a newly refurbished bar. I came on board full time around 2003 when I returned from college, discovered my passion for great beer and really started building up our draught beer program. Now we're a destination for the entire region.
Q: Have you seen business increase, or has business changed in any way since you did the big renovations at Olympic?
A: Business has definitely increased – we have more room now! The remodel definitely allowed us to have more usable space in our bar room and probably has brought in new people that had never been in the restaurant before. People always love the high ceilings, the big round tables in the dining room, sitting by the fireplace in the winter and of course, the deck and outdoor bar in the warmer months.
Q: Why do you think Olympic remains a popular, local establishment where people like to bring visitors and out-of-town guests?
A: We're Rockford's home away from home. We aim to curate a cozy, comfortable atmosphere with friendly, knowledgeable servers while delivering out guests great food and the best beer, wine, whiskey and cocktails around. Some of our regular customers live down the block, and some live on the other side of Cherry Valley. I think it’s important to remember that we are a destination, and we have to make it worth people’s drive (or walk, or bike ride) to get here, so we always have to be improving food, service, drinks – everything has to always be improving. I can’t sit still anyways. I get bored.
Q: What's Tour de North End all about?
A: I lived in Portland, Oregon, for almost two years and somehow managed to never ride a bicycle while I was there, even though it's one of the most bike-friendly cities in America. So when I came back to Rockford, I moved into a house in the neighborhood and started biking every day to work. Since Rockford really doesn’t have the best infrastructure for cyclists, I started the TDNE as a way to reach out to bikers and make sure they followed the rules of the road but also as a message to motorists that they need to be aware of cyclists. We have been overwhelmed with the community support and goodwill that the event creates. This will be our sixth year of TDNE, and I expect well over 1,000 cyclists to hit the road with us on July 30, 2016.
Q: Why do you enjoy you job/work?
A: I grew up behind the bar and in my parents' kitchen. I'm a foodie, a beer geek and a restaurant industry lifer. My homework nowadays is to eat and drink great food, wine and beer so I can share the best recipes, brews and cocktails with our guests and staff the next morning. What else could possibly be better than that?