"It was over money, essentially," says New York native Saluzzi. "They offered me a percentage of the business, and I asked to see the numbers." Saluzzi says he's fielding offers from other area restaurants. "I'm absolutely going to stay in Kansas City," he promises.
Bushek agrees that money was an issue but says it had nothing to do with the restaurant's success. Rather, the conflict was about Saluzzi's flamboyant cooking style. "Mike's a talented, creative chef," Bushek says, "but we were throwing away a lot of expensive food."
Saluzzi's response: "That's because Frank wanted to open a pizza place before I came along and changed the menu and the concept."
Bushek will add pizza to Altizio's this fall when Bushek expands from a 44-seat bistro to a 74-seat dining room with a kitchen that he says is "four times larger" than the current facility. (He considered moving the restaurant out of the Highland Plaza strip center but decided to take over the adjoining Fantastic Sam's site instead.) And yes, Bushek will be dropping some of Saluzzi's dishes, including the sumptuous, rose petal-strewn fettuccine Cleopatra. He's bringing in his mother's sister, Lee Gotti, from New Jersey ("She's no relation to the John Gotti family," Bushek explains) and a cousin, Marie Altizio Wolf, to add more Altizio family recipes to the menu.
Another Italian-American restaurant veteran making a career change is Sicilian-born Rose Rudi, best known for her stints at Trader Vic's and the American before her last position as catering manager for Stephenson's Old Apple Farm. Rudi has started Rosaria's Events (816-350-7892), a service that arranges corporate meetings, wedding receptions, birthday parties and tour-group outings at local restaurants. "I work as the liaison between the restaurant and the client," Rudi says. "I handle all the details, including making sure that the location has handicapped-accessible bathrooms, microphones, a dance floor, whatever they need."
Rudi toyed with the idea of opening her own restaurant. "[But] the kind of elegant place I would want to create would be too expensive," she says. "Unless I won the lottery."