If you’ve never been to Alex’s Washington Gardens in Highwood, you’re not only missing out on a Highwood classic, you’re also missing out on superb Italian food. The restaurant has a fabulous history that goes wayyyy back, even before the little doors in Highwood opened in 1982. And that’s where this week’s Meet a Mom enters…. Meet Franny Kaulentis and her husband Mike, one of the proud new owners of Alex’s Washington Gardens!
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town? What brought you to your current town?
I grew up in Wilmette-so not too far from here, but most of the time it still feels like I am an out-of-towner! My husband and I moved to Highland Park 6 years ago after we found a piece of land that we liked. We have been fixing up our old house ever since.
You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
I have three daughters named Sloane, Millie, and Emma. They are 5, 4, and 1. My older two little ladies are just 12 months apart. Surprise!
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom? Please share at least one mom “hack/tip” that makes your everyday life a little easier…
I love hugs and snuggles. My favorite time of day (usually at night right before bed) is when everyone is fed, clean, happy and we can all just hang out. I feel like I spend the majority of my day planning ahead for the next meal, departure, or activity, and there is truly nothing like those moments of being 100% present with my kids.
To make our mornings as smooth as possible, I try to pack lunches the night before, set my coffee pot timer, and have few to zero opinions about the outfits my 4 and 5 year old pick out for themselves that morning. 🙂 They might not match, something might be 1-2 sizes too big, they might look homeless, but it’s all about self expression-right?!
Oh yes, pick your battles, right? What is your least favorite mom job?
Cooking dinner is definitely my least favorite. After a days worth of mom work, I want to relax. Lucky for us, Mike is a good cook. But even better is going to Washington Gardens or carrying out. Nothing better at the end of a busy day!
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I love numbers and am a total math nerd. During my days as a student and a teacher, math has
always been my favorite subject.
Favorite local places to spend with the family?
We love going for bike rides with the whole family. The rides usually take us to parks or neighbor’s houses!
What is your most favorite family vacation you’ve taken and why?
Our favorite family vacay was to Palm Springs with a little road trip to Disneyland. Was the perfect combo of sun, swimming, and relaxing mixed with lots of excitement!
You are a restaurant owner, tell us about Alex’s Washington Gardens!
My husband and I teamed up with our partner, Ben Glazer, earlier this year and took over ownership Alex’s Washington Gardens in Highwood. If you are not familiar, it is an old school Italian restaurant that has been in business at its current location since 1982! There is so much rich history within the four walls. Everyday I learn a new tidbit or meet a new face who has been a regular for decades. The charm of the restaurant truly gets me every time I walk in. Washington Gardens is the perfect kid-friendly atmosphere with the best pizza and Italian dishes on the North Shore. I can’t get away from the fish, pasta, pizza, chicken, veal, salad-I love it all!
What was/is the inspiration involved behind becoming the new owners of Alex’s Washington Gardens?
My husband and I have been involved in several restaurants and bars. We know and love the business and were ready to be a part of one in the suburbs. Our partner, Ben, grew up going to Washington Gardens, has always loved the place beyond just the food, and is the perfect partner for us. We all want to do our part in continuing the masterpiece that Alex’s Washington Gardens has become over the last 37 years. There is always room for improvement in any business and we are ready to take that task head on while making certain it retains its charm and vibe.
What are some of your proudest moments with your business where you said “wow, I did that”?
Ben, Mike, and I are incredibly lucky to be part of an establishment with a topnotch staff. The kitchen, waitstaff, bussers, and bartenders make this place whole. It is more than just a group of people working at a restaurant. It is one big family.
We knew that new owners was going to be a big change for everyone. The very first night I worked was a very busy Thursday. Watching the way everyone worked together and multitasked (luckily my kids have given me plenty of practice!) made me smile from the inside out. The mutual respect and love felt like it formed overnight and we were all instantly on the same team. I looked around at my happy staff and a crowd of people enjoying delicious food, friends, and family, and knew we were going to carry the torch prouder than ever.
What advice do you have for fellow busy mamas out there?
Even you overachiever mamas that do it all-we can not cook for our families every single night. There is no guilt or shame in taking the night off and carrying out, or forgetting the mess in our houses all together and going out! Take the night off! Indulge. Those stress-free bonding moments with your family are the precious ones everyone will remember.
How important is it for you to have a passion outside of being a mother?
I will be honest-after having three kids in four years, I lost myself a bit. While I feel gratitude each and every day that I get to spend these years with my babies, I began to struggle to remember my purpose outside of being a mother. Starting at age 15, I always had a job. I thrive when I am working. Being a part of the restaurant has given me every necessary reminder of how important it is to have a passion and be a part of the business world. I love collaborative work, problem solving, and being around people which makes this industry perfect for me.
When parenting gets hard, what’s something you tell yourself that gets you through?
My kids are happy and healthy and I am honored to be their mom. It is like a mantra that I repeat in my head when they are driving me nuts. (I really do feel honored!)
What is something really nice you do for yourself on a regular or not so regular basis to keep you sane?
A visit to the sauna. Every chance I get. I belong to a gym that has one and half the time I go there, I don’t even exercise. I use the sauna and then shower in peace. It may not seem like a big deal, but it feels like a huge deal to me. The heat of the sauna slows me down and allows me to relax and shut my mind off. The shower with no time constraint or mini humans coming in is the icing on the cake!
What’s on the horizon for Alex’s Washington Gardens?
We have many plans for our little Italian gem-they are all in the works and we promise to keep you posted on our Facebook page! In the meantime, please come in and visit!
Alex’s Washington Gardens is located at: 256 Green Bay Rd., Highwood, IL 60040 | 847-432-0309
A brief history of Alex’s Washington Gardens…
Alex’s Washington Gardens has a rich history in historic Highwood that dates back to 1932! Originally at the corner of Washington and Railway avenues in Highwood (Railway is now Green Bay Road), busy mama of seven children by the name of Angelina Scornavacco began selling her home-cooked Italian food to passengers of what is now Chicago’s Union Pacific North line (UP-N). As per the geographic location, the business became known as Washington Gardens. One decade later, Angelina’s sons transformed the business into a brick and mortar restaurant, which was then named Scornavacco’s. The beloved restaurant closed these doors in 1994. However, in 1982, having lost touch with that side of the family, Angelina’s grandson Alex opened his own restaurant – Alex’s Washington Gardens.(1)
(1) Reynolds, Jessica (2014, April 16). “Classic restaurant: Alex’s Washington Gardens in Highwood.” Retrieved from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-alex-washington-gardens