Thirty years later, Joann Lindholm says Fresh Starts is still a labor of love.
“People ask me how I can do this for so long,” says Lindholm, the restaurant’s longtime owner. ”It’s a love story. I love this restaurant and I love doing this.”
Today, Fresh Starts is recognized as one of the premier dining establishments in Chicago’s south suburban region. It has won numerous dining awards and remains a cornerstone of Flossmoor’s downtown area.
Fresh Starts is located at 1040 Sterling Ave. in Flossmoor.
As next month’s 30th anniversary nears, Fresh Starts is expanding its hours. Starting Aug. 9, Fresh Starts will be open Tuesday through Saturday between 11 a.m. to closing. For years, the restaurant has been open for lunch, but closed between 3 and 4:30 p.m. With the new hours, a bar menu will be available between lunch and dinner.
The anniversary will also feature happy hours with wine and cheese tasting and bourbon flights. Lindholm is planning a throwback menu with entrees from Fresh Start’s earliest days. One such item is the garden pizza – broccoli, cauliflower and spinach on a 16-inch crust with mozzarella and mayonnaise. Served cold, it was a big hit in the 1980s.
After 30 years, Lindholm shows no sign of slowing down. She talks about writing a cookbook with recipes from Fresh Starts. She plans to host regular cooking classes at the restaurant. She wants to offer periodic jazz nights.
When Fresh Starts made its debut in September 1986, Lindholm considered herself a “foodie,” and someone who liked to cook. But she had no experience in the restaurant business. Her background was in sales, personnel work and the secretarial field.
Fresh Starts originally opened as a gourmet food shop, and included an expresso bar and bakery. The expresso area – now the Fresh Starts bar – is the only element of the original operation that remains today.
Otherwise, the walls were lined with refrigerated cases filled with prepared food items. There were multiple varieties of salads, cheeses, and gourmet canned goods. Fresh Starts sold flowers. There were a few tables where customers could eat muffins or scones for breakfast. But it was not a restaurant.
The menu changed every day. Everything was made from scratch.
“And it still is today,” Lindholm says.
Joanne gives credit to her former partner Jeanne McInerney for coming up with the idea for Fresh Starts.
“She had an idea that was ahead of its time,” she says. “Today, there are lots of groceries that sell high-end prepared food. But this was in 1986.”
Fresh Starts became a restaurant in 1989. Today, there is room for 60 diners but the original restaurant was smaller. The current restaurant has a back room but that space was originally part of the bakery.
“People kept asking, ‘If you have food that is this good, why can’t we sit down and eat it here?’” Lindholm said. “We also got requests from people who wanted to have lunch in a restaurant.”
Also, it made more financial sense to turn Fresh Starts into a restaurant.
Many customers have faithfully come to Fresh Starts since that change. A number of staff members – both in the kitchen and “the front of the house” – have worked at Fresh Starts for more than a dozen years.
What’s more, Lindholm can point to Fresh Start staff members from its earliest days who now return to the restaurant.
“There were kids who worked in the kitchen in the 1980s when they were students at H-F. They went off to college, came back, got jobs and started families and now they have kids who are the same age as their parents when they worked at Fresh Starts.”
Lindholm has taken part in every facet of the restaurant’s operations. Not long ago, she was down a chef so took part in the line duties in the kitchen.
“I’ve done a lot of cooking through the years,” she says. “I love doing the pretty things. Small dishes. Appetizers. Food with lots of colors.”
Fresh Starts has never been open on Sundays. For the past couple of years, it’s also been closed on Mondays. That arrangement, she says, has allowed her to “have a life outside the restaurant” and provides valuable time in which she and her husband can see their grandchildren.
In January, 2014, Fresh Starts received a glowing review from “Check Please,” WTTW-Channel 11’s dining program.
“Located in downtown Flossmoor, Fresh Starts offers a mix of tasty dishes with freshly prepared ingredients,” the show’s website states.” A fantastic selection of seafood dishes, pastas, unique salads and seasonal specials. The atmosphere is warm, friendly and romantic.”
Lindholm says the response to the show was immediate, and electric.
“It was a very cold winter but all of a sudden people were driving from all over the Chicago area to come to Fresh Starts,” she recalls.
It was “the biggest thing that happened to us in years,” she says.
“That show told the world that we were amazing. We already knew that but the rest of the Chicago area had to find that out.”
Lindholm says being located in downtown Flossmoor is another reason for Fresh Starts’ success.
“Flossmoor has been a wonderful place to have a business,” she said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It has such a quaint neighborhood feel. Flossmoor has a charm that is very real, and wonderful.”