COO Rosalie Vicari uses her teaching background to make sure her family’s restaurants get an A+ rating on the wine, food and service.
By Susan Peck
Photography by Brett Mountain
Once a teacher, always a teacher. That’s certainly true of restaurateur Rosalie Vicari, who with her husband, Joe Vicari, owns one of the largest restaurant groups in the state with 22 locations, including eight Andiamo, two Joe Muer Seafood and Brownie’s on the Lake in St. Clair Shores.
Before Rosalie joined her husband in the restaurant business, she was a teacher with a master’s degree in education. Today the COO and influential “first lady” of the Joe Vicari Restaurant Group helps run its restaurants like an experienced headmaster at an elite private school. That’s never more evident than during the staff’s weekly wine training, says Jon Patrus, sommelier at Joe Muer Seafood in Bloomfield Hills.
“Not only does Rosalie have an amazing palate for choosing the finest wines, but she studies them extensively and passes her knowledge on to her waitstaff each week,” Patrus says. “And she’s a stickler down to the last detail, including the proper pronunciation for each wine — if I get something wrong, she’s quick to correct me.”
Rosalie says she hopes her “attention and influence” is what helps the restaurants deliver excellence. “I’ve carefully studied trends for the summer and hand-picked standout wine offerings that include the most fabulous rosés and sparkling wines, including one of my favorites — Domaine Tempier Rose (from) Bandol,” she says. “I’ve really been delving into the French wines, particularly those that are crisper and lighter, and some of my other current top white selections include the French Coffinet-Duvernay Chassagne Montrachet ‘Clos Saint Jean’ and the California wine, Celani chardonnay, from Napa.”
While a wine aficionado herself, Rosalie is the first to say you don’t need to be a snob about your choices. “The rules regarding wine pairing and consumption have all loosened up,” she says. “You don’t necessarily need to drink white wine with fish or red with beef, and as for the name on the label, I like to say the best wine is the wine you like — it can be as simple as that.”
Learning By Example
Patti Mooradian, manager of private dining events at Joe Muer Seafood, says she loves working under the powerhouse mentor who taught her about the restaurant business. “I’m so lucky that I get to work one-on-one with someone like Rosalie, and I try to follow her lead — from checking our glasses for water spots, to managing the full staff and kitchen,” Mooradian says. “She truly knows the business inside and out and teaches us best by her own actions.”
A lesson Mooradian says she’s learned from Rosalie is that the business is about the people. “I’ve learned from her to care about the people that choose to spend time and dine in our restaurant, and to treat them like I would my own family,” she says.
The Joe Vicari Restaurant Group keeps expanding with restaurants in Michigan and Las Vegas, and new locations are being considered in Grand Rapids and Nashville. Rosalie, a Clinton Township resident, also says they have been a huge supporter of Detroit. When other restaurants left the city, the restaurant group opened Andiamo in General Motors’ Wintergarden and then Joe Muer Seafood in the Renaissance Center in 2011. She says 2017 was their best year yet, and this year is expected to surpass that.
“My husband, Joe, is the risk-taker and forward-thinker between the two of us,” Rosalie says. “He saw downtown was somewhere we wanted to be, and it’s been a huge success. I’m the more cautious one, which balances us out really well.”
This year, Joe Vicari Restaurant Group was the official caterer for the ChevroletDetroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, which it’s participated in the past seven years. “It’s a huge undertaking as we bring in our head chefs, 40 ovens and 15 refrigerated semi-trucks to set up remotely on Belle Isle for the races,” she says, “but we love doing it.”
Vicari Family Values
Life of a restaurant owner means working long hours, including weekends and holidays, and sometimes missing events. That’s why it’s special Vicari family members work side by side, even though it may mean 70-hour work weeks, Rosalie says.
Mother to three and grandmother to seven, she loves working with son Dominic Vicari, 33, an operating partner of Joe Muer Seafood in Bloomfield Hills. “The two generations definitely enhance one another,” Rosalie says. “For instance, Dominic brings his high-tech and creative input to the business and insisted on the addition of the 1,000-gallon fish tank that greets guests when they enter the restaurant. That’s a real showstopper.”
The two collaborated on the upscale restaurant designed by Ron Rea, of the Ron & Roman architecture and design firm in Birmingham.
“I’ve learned so much from my mother, and I couldn’t have a better teacher to be the best in the business,” Dominic says. He agrees with his father, Joe, who describes his wife’s contributions best: “Rosalie pays attention to the details that many others may overlook. She is a stickler for proper service and delivering that ‘wow’ factor to each of our guests.”