After graduating from Saint Charles North in 2003 he studied film at Columbia. Taking a break from the restaurant business; He wrote and directed the 2011 feature length film, Munger Road. Nick, his wife Eleni, and their two daughters Evie & Iris, live in Saint Charles.
Fox Valley Magazine: When did you first start working in restaurants?
Nick Smith: I actually got my start in this business at Salerno’s on the Fox in Saint Charles. I was very lucky to work for Adam and Joe Salerno for a number of years during high school and college. I started as a server and eventually wanted to learn as much as I could and had great experiences there. They have been in business over four decades; I loved their passion for it.
Fox Valley Magazine: Alexander’s Cafe in St. Charles was opened in 2016 as a sister eatery to the one in Elgin but how is it different than the first location?
Nick Smith: Alexander’s in Saint Charles focuses on breakfast and lunch (with some ‘supper’ fare sprinkled in) and gave us a chance to do things a little differently. It was our first opportunity as a company to work with local businesses such as Oberweis and Ream’s Meat Market. Offering our guests creative dishes made with the best ingredients was and still is our mission. Same thing with our drinks – we squeeze fresh oranges every day from either Florida or California and feature Intellegentsia Coffee.
Fox Valley Magazine: Will you be adding any more locations?
Nick Smith: I think adding locations is driven by opportunity. Alexanders Café in Saint Charles was an opportunity to take a shuttered building and fill it with good people. We’re very happy to be apart of a rebounding west corridor. Bob Karas and I knew Saint Charles very well (he has owned Rookies across the street since 1998) and we had a strong conviction about that location. Turned out for the best.
Old Republic [Kitchen+Bar] was a pretty similar opportunity in that there was an empty building that was looking to be filled with great people. I really saw potential there. Eleni and I lived in Elgin for a time near that location and felt the area warranted a nice place people could come, sit down, take a load off and enjoy themselves.
Later this summer, our family is opening a new Rookie’s Sports Pub in Roselle. It was a former Tilted Kilt and again… we take a lot of pride in putting the work, time, and effort to “turn the lights on” and fill these empty spaces with great people. The new Rookie’s will be our 12th restaurant in the area.
Fox Valley Magazine: You took time off to do the 2011 feature film Munger Road. How long did it take you to write the script?
Nick Smith: Munger Road was a long road. Sorry for the pun. It was about a year to write the script and develop it. I Haven’t told this story very often but the first script for Munger Road was very different than our actual shooting script. It had a ton of locations, actors, action – it was a great script but we could not afford to make it. The first 10 pages of that script was 4 teenagers taking a video camera out to the haunted Munger Road – subsequently being attacked and disappearing.
It was then that I realized to expand upon those first 10 pages and make a movie based on those characters. We spent the majority of 2010 setting up Munger Road to shoot in the fall on location in Saint Charles. We had tremendous support from local businesses (including Colonial Café, Smitty’s on The Corner, and more) and the city. With a very tight schedule we shot for 16 nights in the month of September and had the movie in the can… as they say.
The rest of 2010 and 2011 was spent on post production of the movie… recording the score, editing, special effects, sound design and promotion. We opened the movie at the Charlestowne theater in late September to tremendous success. Munger Road had the highest per theater gross of any movie in the entire country our opening weekend. Really fun stuff.
Fox Valley Magazine: How hard was it to get academy award nominee and golden globe winner Bruce Davison to commit to the project?
Nick Smith: Bruce was great. Everybody that worked on Munger Road signed up because they really liked the script. I wrote the script to feel like a suspense novel that you could not stop reading. He really believed in the project and I was honored that he would work with our team and crew who were basically just out of college.
Fox Valley Magazine: It was shot over 16 nights in Bartlett, St. Charles, Elburn, Geneva and Sugar Grove. What were the hardest and best moments of filming?
Nick Smith: The hardest night for us was shooting in Geneva. We had a tight location to shoot at and due to some sort of breakdown in communication we actually almost got shut down. We shot on Munger Road for three nights and I often get asked if I believe in ghosts or if the train tracks are haunted. I had spent many a night growing up in St. Charles traveling down Munger Road and found it to be a creepy place.
But each night we shot out there something weirder happened. On our last night, at 3am in the morning, Trevor Morgan (Jurassic Park 3, The Patriot, The Sixth Sense) was mic’d up for a scene in the woods. As we were getting ready to shoot we picked up on our headphones a very eerie noise from his mic… it was a baby crying. In the middle of the woods. In the middle of nowhere… at the dead of night. We were all happy to move on to the next shooting location.
I really enjoyed shooting in St. Charles. Closing Main Street was a big production and it was fun to drive the police cars. I actually got to drive at one point with the sirens and lights on and remember vividly that civilian cars were actually pulling over for me.
Fox Valley Magazine: How often are you still asked about the movie?
Nick Smith: Just about everyday. Haha. Which I love – I had such a blast making the movie and it is really fun to talk about it with everybody.
Fox Valley Magazine: Could you tell us a little about the concept of your new restaurant Old Republic Kitchen & Bar.
Nick Smith: We thought it would be really fun to do something new and refreshing. I always really liked the idea of an American kitchen that offered menu specialties from different regions of the country. Wisconsin, Kansas City, Minnesota, The Bayou, Nashville, Chicago, California, and more are all featured in our food and drink selection.
We designed the space to be a sort of upscale train station that has a transient feel. There are a lot of great restaurants in the area and we’re happy to have a menu with traditional fare and some specialties you can’t get anywhere else. For instance we smoke our Ribs, Turkey, and Brisket in house everyday. We have twenty four beers on tap with a lot of craft and local breweries. Great selection of house drinks including our families’ ever popular mai tai and the new Ecto Cooler (Ghostbusters Edition).
Fox Valley Magazine: It’s is located at the previous Lonestar Steakhouse at 155 S. Randall Rd. in Elgin, how long did it take to transform the building?
Nick Smith: The whole process was about nine months. We totally gutted the former Lone Star dining room, bar area, and bathrooms. There was a lot of work on the outside including painting, driveway, roof work, and new signage. It is always more work to transform an existing building (like Alexanders in St. Charles) but it’s a really good feeling to see it filled with people instead of an empty, shuttered building.
Fox Valley Magazine: What are your favorite menu items and those of your customers?
Nick Smith: Our Brisket Sandwich is our #1 seller. It’s really, really tasty and also a menu item that is hard to find in the area. I really love our Minnesota Walleye available every Friday, thin crust Republic pizza, and Mac and Cheese. We offer our burgers in two sizes (Big and Little) depending on hunger level and like giving our guests the option of a quarter pound burger or half pound. We use locally sourced, CAB beef from Bravehart. I also really enjoy our smoked turkey club, ribs and I have been told numerous times that we have some of the best chicken fingers in the area.
Fox Valley Magazine: Of course I have to ask, are you going to do a sequel to Munger Road?
Nick Smith: We’ll see. It’s a great script.