John Ismail's start in the restaurant business began years ago when he took a job as a busboy while attending California State University, Sacramento. Besides earning cash while in school, he enjoyed working with the public.
"I had the right personality for it, and every day was different."
Ismail turned that college job into a career in the food industry. He went on to open nine franchise eateries, first in the Bay Area, then the Northern San Joaquin Valley. His most recent venture is Uno Chicago Grill in Modesto, which opened last month. Ismail, the general manager, owns the business with his brother Bobby. The two were looking to open a theme restaurant that would do well in Modesto.
"We wanted to bring something fun that had good value," he said. He was familiar with Uno because his wife, Diana, is from Chicago and when they visited the Windy City, they'd often go to Uno, known for its deep-dish pizzas. He liked what he saw and tasted, did some research and decided to bring a taste of Chicago to Motown.
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The interior's look is a mix of industrial and upscale, with brick walls and marble and granite counter tops, particularly in the bar area. Patrons can enjoy a cocktail while waiting for a table or order menu items at the bar. The bar area is outfitted with nine plasma TVs. One wall in the main dining area is adorned with black-and-white framed photos of jazz legends. Several booths with comfortably cushy seating are big enough to seat six.
"We wanted it to be pleasing to the customer and more family-friendly," Ismail said.
For those who are too busy to come in a sit a spell, Uno offers curbside service. Diners can call in their order, then pull into one of the reserved curbside parking spots when they arrive for pickup. A server will come out to the car, take your payment, then bring the food to you. The eatery offers a few deals exclusively for takeout orders. For example, you can get two regular-size deep-dish pizzas for $25.99, two flatbread pizzas for $15.99 or a mixed double: buy a regular-size deep-dish pizza and get a flatbread pizza for $4.99.
— Donna Birch