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LOCAL

Owners of Rockford's new northern Italian restaurant promise familiarity with flair

Jim Hagerty
Rockford Register Star

The German restaurant known as Der Rathskeller that operated on Rockford’s North End for 90 years isn’t coming back. 

But the location is going to carry on the tradition of housing an ethnic restaurant.

“We are excited to bring a vacant property back to life,” said Lia Pennacchi, co-owner of Plume, a new Italian eatery that will serve cuisine common in the northern part of the country. “We are going to put our vision, our design and dream into the building.”

Der Rathskeller opened for business in 1931 at 1132 Auburn St. and was one of the city’s oldest dining establishments before it closed for the first time in December 2019.

Another ownership group bought the building in April 2020.

The second version of Der Rathskeller lasted a little over a year, as the ravages of the pandemic eventually took their toll. The building has been vacant ever since. 

More:Rockford restaurant that opened during COVID pandemic closes its doors

“We aren’t really going to change it,” said Chase Williams, Pennacchi’s husband and business partner. 

That’s because the building at 1132 Auburn St., is pretty much a turnkey operation.

Aside from a few coats of paint and new décor to complement the northern Italian menu, the layout will be as Rockford has known it. The couple also plan to pay homage to the building’s history. 

“We have the original liquor license and the original menu form when things were like 25 cents,” Pennacchi said. “So, we are going to frame those and keep them somewhere on the back bar.”

Pennacchi and Williams hope to open Plume June 18, something neighbors say is vital to the North End’s regrowth.

“We’re super excited about Plume joining the new businesses who are all working to bring back the energy we remember,” said Mike Werckle, artistic director at The West Side Show Room. “We all have such fond memories of the North End when Der Rathskeller, Jungle Jim’s and Altamore (Ristorante) defined the neighborhood."

Williams and Pennacchi are leasing the building from her parents with an option to buy.

Their upscale-casual menu may surprise some who have come to know the typical Italian fare served throughout the area. But they say it will complement what everyone else is doing.

“There’s a lot of Italian restaurants in the city,” Williams said. “And they’re all really southern-focused — tomato-focused with pizza and pasta. We’ll have less tomatoes than even some of the non-Italian restaurants.”

Pennacchi, whose family is from northern Italy, said the food from the region is centered on pasta, but things like cured meats, cream sauces and seasonable vegetables are more common.

“There will be elements of familiarity, but it will be different,” she said. "Northern Italian is something that you don't see really in the states and definitely in this area."