With its evolving menu, comfort food has remained the staple of this cozy Sycamore restaurant for more than a decade.
Natalie and David Waeghe are enjoying 12 successful years of running their cozy restaurant, Nat’s on Maple, 112 S. Maple St., in downtown Sycamore.
Starting Nat’s on Maple was a leap of faith, says Natalie, who handles front-of-house duties. Her husband is the kitchen’s majordomo. Prior to setting out on their own, the husband-and-wife team worked for small, family-owned restaurants as well as large, corporate eateries. By 2004 they were ready and eager to strike out on their own.
“We had no way of knowing whether we would be here a dozen years later – but we’re glad to be on the scene and look forward to a bright future,” says Natalie.
The thriving restaurant has room for 100 guests in two main dining rooms and a bar. A private-party space, dubbed The Wine Room, accommodates 14.
While the menu has evolved over the years, comfort food remains a focus. Pot roast is still the top dinnertime entree, rivaled only by cedar-planked salmon. Jambalaya typically ranks third. Diver scallops are well received, while chicken and biscuits, the duck club sandwich and duck salad are popular at lunchtime.
“A lot of people think we’re a fine-dining establishment. We say we’re upscale casual,” Natalie says. “But given that perception, we have to notch up our service to fit that level. To build satisfaction means engaging with customers as guests and treating them as a person.”
“Some of our clientele eat here a couple of times a week, so we have to keep the menu fresh so the dining experience doesn’t become stagnant,” she adds.
The Waeghes strive to take “food tour” business trips every year to different parts of the country, as they scout new ideas and recipes to bring home. They conduct occasional trial-and-error taste tests, sometimes offering a special dish on sporadic days over the course of a month or two.
The Waeghes use some organic products and shop locally, when feasible. For dietary or medical reasons, people increasingly are more aware and conscious about what they consume.
“With our mostly scratch kitchen, it’s easy to modify recipes to accommodate the needs of guests who, for example, must avoid gluten,” Natalie says. “This also applies to the bar, where we have gluten-free spirits and organic wines.”
In response to a growing taste for spirits, Waeghe anticipates adding a bourbon flight through fall and winter. Perhaps surprisingly, beer sales lag those of other beverages at the bar, though there’s renewed demand for artisanal brews. Five craft beers are staples, interchanged with an additional two seasonal choices.
Nat’s and its well-trained 20-member staff serve a growing customer base – not just from Sycamore-DeKalb, but also from the greater Fox Valley area. The restaurant is an ideal meeting place for customers driving from Rockford and Geneva/St. Charles for a get-together.
Nat’s does provide off-site catering, which is facilitated by a handy kitchen trailer that can make appearances at events including weddings and farm bureau get-togethers.
The Waeghes are looking to build on their success in the future – but they promise not to compromise the strength of their existing business.
“We would like another restaurant about 30 minutes’ drive from here and are actively searching for a location,” Waeghe says.
Nat’s on Maple accepts reservations for groups of six or more. The dining room and bar are open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to 10 p.m. and Saturday 4 to 10 p.m.