This is part one of Robin Wheeler's Chef's Choice profile of Amy Zupanci of Fond and Township Grocer in Edwardsville, Illinois. Part two, a
Q&A with Zupanci, is here and part three, a recipe, can be found here
When Amy Zupanci
sits at a sidewalk table in front of Fond
and Township Grocer
, her Edwardsville restaurant and market, she talks to the most of the people who walk by and waves to many of the cars that drive the bustling intersection of Main and Vandalia.
"How'd I wind up here, sitting on Main Street, drinking Matt's coffee?" she laughs, referring to Matt Herren's Goshen Coffee
Zupanci grew up in Edwardsville, and much of her family still lives in the area. After a childhood of pursuing art, she earned a degree in advertising from the University of Illinois - Champaign-Urbana. "My parents were adamant that I not get an art degree, because they were paying for it," she laughs. "No effin' way! I completely understand. So what's the closest thing I can do in the arts that I can still make a living? I went into advertising and graphic design."
Art and design classes were great, but sitting in front of a computer, fiddling with Photoshop, bored Zupanci.
During her junior year she started booking bands through a student organization. When that job ended, she started booking bands through an agency in Chicago and found that the world of bands and bars was a great fit for her high-energy personality. She quickly worked her way into a job for one of the biggest bar owners in Champaign-Urbana.
"I got a first-hand view of the lifestyle, a lot of really insane things to see as a 21-year-old in the bar and restaurant business. I was like, I want to do this! This is cool, it suits me, it suits my hours."
That experience prompted her to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, which she viewed as graduate school. She broke the news to her parents at Christmas during her senior year.
"I probably shaved off a year of each of their lives by holding them for two minutes while I went to get the brochure. When I said, 'I need to talk to you guys about something,' and left? And I'm in college, and I'm a girl, about eight thousand things ran through their minds other than culinary school. By comparison to all the other things it could have been, they were like, 'Oh! Okay! Great. Go do it.'
"Their response, too, was, 'We knew you'd never go into advertising. You're too active. You can't sit in front of a computer.'"
At the time the C.I.A. required prospective students to have at least nine months experience in a professional kitchen. Her boss let her work her hours in the grill at one of his bars, while she still booked bands and finished school.
Her time in at culinary school in Hyde Park turned her on to New York City. Goal number one became living in the city by whatever means possible.
For ten years Zupanci worked her way around the city, at one point working a lunch shift at one restaurant, an evening shift at a wine shop and baking with one of the city's first cupcake businesses in the wee hours. She weathered the business downfall after 9/11, spent time managing the wine shop and took every opportunity to work in as many kitchens as possible.
She knew she wanted to open a restaurant but didn't want to do it in New York. Her trips back to Illinois left her longing for the good food that she knew the farms of the Midwest were capable of producing. With colleagues in New York willing to invest, Zupanci created the business plan for Fond, focusing on sustainability -- foods that would help sustain the farmers and community, served in an atmosphere that utilized repurposed items, antiques and environmentally safe building materials.
Zupanci didn't abandon art and design, though. Her paintings hang in Fond, and her eye for color and design runs through her businesses in the handmade books that hold the wine list, the arrangement of the repurposed glass canisters that hold the store's bulk goods and the signage for both businesses.
In 2007 she returned to Edwardsville, working at places like Niche to keep busy while she finished eco-retrofitting her portion of the Bohm Buidling for Fond's October 2008 opening.
"Literally within the first four or five months after I opened, this couple asked, 'What can we do to make you stay? We want to make sure you're successful.' What a phenomenal thing. So we started a wine group."