BY MICHAEL BURKE
RACINE - Mother's cooking is out; Italian is in.
Benvenuto, a new Italian restaurant at 3751 Douglas Ave., has opened at the north end of Clock Tower Place, a small north-side strip shopping center. It replaces the former Mother's Fine Food.
Benvenuto's owner, Khalid Zeiden, is an Egyptian-born American citizen who wants his establishment to taste, smell, look and feel like his customers found it on the streets of Italy.
"We're just trying to do a small, cozy, Italian atmosphere here," he said. "So when people come here, they are really not in Racine; they're in downtown Rome or Sicily or whatever."
The table linens, Chianti wines on the tables, mahogany chairs and wall decor all fit that theme.
A native of Cairo, Zeiden said running an Italian restaurant is actually a fairly natural step. "I can relate to Italian food more," he said. "Egyptian food is similar - not the pasta, but the herbs and spices."
Italian food also matches his occupational background. After earning a four-year college degree in hotel management and tourism in Cairo, Zeiden immigrated to the United States eight years ago. He landed in Kenosha, which is still his home.
Zeiden first worked at a pizza /pasta restaurant the Lake Forest, Ill., area. Next he became general manager, and then owner, of the Chicago-based Giordano's Italian restaurant in Grand Avenue Mall, Milwaukee.
When Applebee's took over that space in July, Zeiden started looking for another operation to buy.
He found that Mother's Fine Food was for sale and liked the idea of Racine's north side as an area to start an Italian restaurant. He and Marc Lienhard, his minority partner and colleague from Giordano's, bought Mother's.
However, from the menu to the name Benvenuto - which means "welcome" - nothing about Mother's remains the same. "As soon as I changed the name, things changed drastically," Zeiden said. "It got much better."
Now, he said, "It's not like a country atmosphere - not like pigs and apples."
Zeiden hopes to attract a steady clientele from Caledonia, North Bay and Wind Point areas. "The suburbs, those people always need to go to downtown Milwaukee or Chicago; we bring those things here," he said.
The menu includes breakfast, lunch and supper fare - from omelets to almost a dozen different salads and 16 types of pasta dishes. The most popular dish so far is Chicken Oreganato.
Asked where he gets his recipes, Zeiden - who also owns a Mediterranean grocery store in Milwaukee - replied, "From here," and tapped his temple.
"I go out a lot and get ideas."
Entree prices run about $5 to $7 for lunches and about $7 to $11 for suppers.
If Benvenuto does well, Zeiden may find the 34-seat capacity limiting, but he's already talking with Clock Tower Place developer Geoff Bergauer about a patio seating area for next summer - and perhaps a sideways expansion someday.
Benvenuto also does catering, carryout and delivery within about a three-mile radius.
Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call (262) 752-6326.