Taus, born and raised in Romania, moved to town in the '80s after languishing in Detroit, where he worked for Chrysler. While preparing to launch a drugstore franchise here, Taus began studying cooking with renowned local restaurateur Nick Ligidakis.
“In Nick’s classes, it was about more than food,” Taus recalls, “You learned to be creative, and to use your instincts about making the best meal for someone. I got hooked on cooking, and on that way of thinking.” Taus admits he’s not a professional chef, and refers to his cuisine as “culinary entertainment.” He looks at creating and serving food as something more than just what tastes good and how it looks on the plate. “My idea is simple,” he explains while servers bustle around him. “You offer the guests an experience that takes them out of their everyday routine, that otherwise they would not find in some other room.”
Romeo’s was originally located at Southern and Longmore in Mesa, and moved to bustling downtown Gilbert in 2004. In both locations, the emphasis has always been on fresh food and unusual combinations. Because Romeo’s operates in a smallish, 1,800-square-foot space, Taus shops every day and won’t put anything on his menu that can’t be made from scratch in 20 minutes or less. All baked goods are made in-house by pastry chef Debbie Harvey. “We have no microwaves or heat lamps,” Taus says. “Nothing comes out of the freezer to your plate. Not in my place.”
The cozy café’s affordable cuisine favors large portions and Mediterranean ingredients and flavors, though Taus stops short of giving his cuisine a specific name. “My menu is steeped in Romanian traditions, but everything is made a little differently, a little more creatively than you’d find in any one culture.”
Longtime menu favorites include Baked Bleu Tomatoes (fresh tomato slices and tangy bleu cheese on a house-made Italian roll), the Corinthian Salad (grilled chicken atop roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts), and the Chicken Omega, which features strips of grilled meat tossed with spinach and pine nuts topped with a creamy white wine sauce.
“In my industry, you live and die by consistency,” Taus explains. “So, sure, people love our food, but what they really love is they always get the experience they want: great things to eat and my wonderful staff treating them nice.”
Taus says that staff is the secret ingredient in his success. “You can make up all the special recipes you want,” he shrugs. “I have a great group of people here who make my vision into a real thing, and they’re why people always return to us.”
Diners who return often enough know that Romeo’s has a secret menu. “Our customers know they can say, ‘Ask the chef to make that chicken dish for me,’ and we will. We want them to feel like they’re at home when they’re here.”
Taus thinks of himself, he explains, as “the glue” that keeps Romeo’s together.
“I’m just the conductor. I direct the energy between what’s being made in the back and the guests out front who are waiting for it. I’m standing in the middle, and on both sides I have people who are letting me live my dream.”