Inovasi Owner Talks New Highland Park Restaurant

John des Rosiers took a break from overseeing the transformation of Highland Park's Moderno into the American-styled Royce to explain what he envisions for the restaurant.

Over the sounds of drilling, moving wood and shuffling feet, John des Rosiers is explaining what's next for his Highland Park restaurant.

The owner of Inovasi in Lake Bluff and Moderno in Renaissance Place in downtown Highland Park decided recently to close Moderno, an upscale Italian restaurant, and reopen it as a more approachable, family-friendly spot serving American cuisine.

"We built a really good restaurant with Moderno, and we were really proud of it," Rosiers said, "but it wasn't the right thing for Highland Park."

Moderno, the modern Italian restaurant that opened in Renaissance Place in April, closed on Dec. 22. It will reopen Jan. 10 as Royce, a chef-driven casual restaurant, with a reasonably priced menu that will include signature and build-your own burgers and a children's menu.

The switch was made in part to lure a larger portion of Highland Park to the restaurant during the week, and to take advantage of its takeout service more frequently. The space fits 210 seats and over 100 more outside.

"Because we're large we really need everyone to grab onto it," Rosiers said. "We didn't capture enough of the market here to sustain it at the size it was at."

Moderno, the chef-driven restaurant led by Rosiers, received across the board critical acclaim earlier this year, getting rave reviews from Time Out ChicagoChicago MagazineThe Sun-Times and here on Patch.

In his glowing review of Moderno, however, Patch columnist Ed Brill predicted what may have been an insurmountable obstacle for the restaurant: its limitations on the guests control over their order.

"The success or failure of [Moderno] will depend on whether or not Highland Park diners will accept a place without a Caesar salad or fried calamari, or if they are willing to eat the dishes as the kitchen envisions them," Brill wrote.

Diners seem to have been less willing to go with Moderno's concept than Rosiers would have liked. But he wants those who disliked Moderno to know that he listened to their criticisms.

"In the end that's my fault for judging the market wrong," Rosiers said.

The Royce menu will be fairly straightforward, but Rosiers is quick to point out that the ingredients will be extremely high quality, with most of them coming from local, organic farms.

"We can do really cool, fancy stuff," Rosiers said, "but we can also do really really well-done straightforward things, too."

Those better quality ingredients mean a burger will cost between $10 and $12, a tad pricier than one from Norton's or Michael's. Rosiers is convinced people will be willing to drop a few dollars more in the name of quality. He points to the $11 omelettes at Walker Brothers as an example of what people are willing to spend on something they like.

"If people are happy to pay for an $11 omelette, I think they'll be just fine paying for a $10 to $12 burger made with great ingredients," Rosiers said.

The new restaurant will have a different look, as well. It will feature softer seats, an enclosed bar instead of an open one, a different color scheme and less noise, thanks to more soundproofing. It will also be open longer hours, from noon till 9 or 10 p.m. nightly. 

"We're really excited for people to come in and see what we've listened to," Rosiers said. "This is like a second chance."

A concerned DHS Parent January 12, 2013 at 06:41 PM
$19 for half a chicken! Should be interesting.
forest barbieri January 18, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Likely another empty space once the lease commitment is up. Does anyone know if Panera is really coming?
Dave February 04, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Just love people like Bob Levi, who not only had his facts on the prices off but decided to review a restaurant before it even opened. And for Forest, you seem to have an ax to grind against the owner of Royce. My family and I have been there 3 times, and although it it still new, both the service and the food was terrific.
Bob Levi February 04, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Dave, I took the prices for the Royce online menu. Perhaps the owner realized his quoted prices were too high and lowered them without changing the online menu. Or else he low-balled the prices in the article just to get new customers. As a business consultant for many years, I've dealt only with facts. Otherwise, one cannot advise their clients on new, diversified opportunities to persue. So I just call it the way I see it. I clearly state in my 1/5 post above that I don't know the owner. However, any chef who claims he's going to teach the North Shore residents about good food certainly has an ego issue IMHO.
PAM February 09, 2013 at 04:16 AM
I was there tonight and it was very disappointing. When we ordered we asked 3 times that the fish be cooked well done. It was not. It came raw. It may have been frozen. I don't know. And shouldn't they ask you if you want the bone removed? I will never be back.


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