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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
May 2015

A Conversation with Donnie Madia, Winner of the 2015 James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur


Donnie Madia is the managing partner/owner of One Off Hospitality. A Chicago native, his unique blend of visionary inspiration, attention to detail, and sense of unlimited possibility informs all he touches— as evidenced in Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The Violet Hour, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats and Nico Osteria.

A consummate family man, Madia carries on the tradition of warmth and hospitality learned from his mother, Clara, and her twin sister Rita. Their deeply instilled sense of values imparted a dedication to charitable involvement, most notably his commitment to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for pediatric cancer research. Earlier this month we sat down with Donnie for a Q&A and his thoughtful responses are below.

  • What does it mean for Chicago’s culinary scene to host the JBF Awards?
    • It's one of the biggest compliments that Chicago can receive. It's another feather in our cap not to be the "second city."
  • What did you do to celebrate your award?
    • I celebrated with our staff, friends, and my business partners, but most importantly with my wife.
  • Tell us about your history/relationship with the IRA?
    • We've always supported the IRA, it's a great institution that helps set guidelines for business insurance and other aspects of the restaurant industry.
  • Can you share some of your upcoming plans for One Off Hospitality?
    • We look forward strengthening our brand and infrastructure, and being viable members of the community.
  • When you're not at one of your restaurants, where's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
    • My wife's kitchen table.
  • How do you think Chicago’s dining scene compares to other leaders (NYC, LA, San Francisco)?
    • We work hard and our hospitality is unrivaled.
  • What's the best piece of advice anyone in the industry has given you?
    • Stay humble, stay focused and you have to have a goal to score.
  • What's the one piece of advice you'd share with someone looking to open a restaurant?
    • Listen to your own voice and dream big. Don't take "no" for an answer. Be humble.
  • If you had to pick one thing to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
    • Pizza
  • If you could dine with any three people (dead or alive) who would it be and where would you go (anywhere in the world)?
    • In Italy with my mom, aunt and wife, plus my son Bronson.


Flavor Profile

Q&A with Scott Weiner, Co-Owner of The Fifty/50 Group

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
    • I started out working many front of house positions throughout high school- from server to delivery driver- and felt a deep connection to the industry and to hospitality. I moved to Las Vegas in 1999 and took a job as a prep cook with China Grill Management and was eventually promoted to a line cook position. While cooking at various China Grill properties in Vegas, I attended UNLV and earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality administration.

      Upon graduating, I took a job with Lettuce Entertain You as a manager at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, & Stone Crab. Working with LEYE, with great coaches and mentors, was the experience that truly changed my career. I felt like working for them was like getting a Master’s degree that I was being paid for, and it truly changed my life and outlook on the industry. I first met my business partner Greg Mohr when we worked together at Joe’s.

      In March of 2008, Greg and I opened The Fifty/50 Restaurant in Wicker Park and we applied our mutual experience to creating our own vision for a restaurant and a company. It’s been a whirlwind of a time the past 7.5 years as we’ve opened Homestead on the Roof, Roots Handmade Pizza, West Town Bakery, and the Berkshire Room.
  • To what do you attribute your success? Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • I feel that I’ve been relentless in my drive to work for talented people and learn from anyone that would give me the time of day. I read, research, stress, and really give my all to the restaurants and to our people. My business partner and the team are what have made me a success and given me the ability to grow not just one concept but also multiples.

      Aspiring restaurateurs need to be confident in their ability and their work ethic. Be realistic and decide why you really want to own a restaurant, and know in advance that it is very hard to have balance in your life if you take that step. From a less philosophical level, raise at least 20% more capital than you think you will need. Undercapitalization is the killer of many restaurants that maybe just needed a little more time or some extra marketing.
  • What is your biggest challenge? What is your biggest reward working in the industry?
    • The biggest challenge for me today is learning how to be less hands on while still having my finger on the pulse. My company is about to go from five to nine restaurants in the next 12 months so making sure my infrastructure is functioning properly is what keeps me working throughout the night. I need to manage smarter.

      The biggest reward thus far, as cliché as it sounds, is watching my managers become partners and seeing the people that have dedicated their livelihoods to the company become successful. Personally, I’m still not satisfied with where I’m at in this industry and I think I can be better, but I’m also thankful to be in a position that I can personally make an impact with my success or failure. That is my most personal reward.
  • What are you excited for this year? Any big events or opportunities for growth?
    • Every one of our concepts is showing growth over the previous year, which keeps me excited for what we’ve already built. The Fifty/50 restaurant continues to show growth after seven years in business, while Roots continues to show double digit growth. That said, this year the Fifty/50 Group is opening a Roots Handmade Pizza in Lincoln Square and another in Lakeview. We are also opening a cocktail lounge in Lincoln Square called The Sixth. Finally, we are opening a soon-to-be-announced concept (with our recent chef-partners from Homestead on the Roof) in an under-construction hotel in the Financial District. I’m excited and I’m nervous.
  • What is your favorite menu item and/or what would your last meal be?
    • At heart, my favorite thing to eat is still the buffalo wings at Fifty/50. I usually mix the buffalo sauce with the spicy garlic sauce. Sadly, when it’s all said and done, regardless of where I’m at in life, watching a game at Fifty/50 with an order of wings is the way I want to go out. I can’t think of a better way to go. One day, I’m going to watch the Cubs win the World Series from a table in there and I’ll gladly submit to my maker right after that.
  • How are you involved with the IRA? What do you see as being the most valuable resource/service provided?
    • I am a board member with the IRA and I am specifically involved in the government relations side, although I hope to become more involved on more of the culinary side in the future. The IRA, first and foremost, provides representation and a voice to independent restaurants. It does not matter whether you have one or 20 restaurants, the IRA will go to bat for you and help you navigate the City of Chicago and State of Illinois. I definitely feel that I get more than I give with the IRA and that’s a testament to Sam and the great people that make it what it is.

Welcoming the New Chicago City Council


Congratulations to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, City Clerk Susana Mendoza, City Treasurer Kurt Summers, and the 2015 Chicago City Council on being sworn into office at the Chicago 2015 Inaugural Ceremony at the Chicago Theatre.

The Illinois Restaurant Association will continue to work with our elected officials in the City of Chicago to implement public policies that will help businesses thrive and create more jobs and additional tax revenue for the City and State of Illinois.

In addition to addressing the City’s financial issues, the City Council may soon address several key topics of concern to businesses, such as the prospect of mandating employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

Restaurants typically operate with a profit margin of about 3-5%. With prevailing concerns over the true cost of implementing the Affordable Care Act, the upcoming increase to the City of Chicago’s minimum wage to $10/hr this summer, and potential property tax increases ahead, additional regulations and mandates such as paid sick leave can be devastating to small businesses. Now is the time to meet with and build relationships with members of the Chicago City Council, and explain how new mandates would negatively affect your business.

The Illinois Restaurant Association is committed to protecting and promoting the interests of the restaurant and hospitality industry with elected officials on a daily basis. We encourage you to stay active and engaged with your representatives on the local, state, and national levels.

Click here to find your City of Chicago Alderman.

Click here to find your State Representative, State Senator, Congressman, and other statewide office holders.

A La Carte

Get to Know Reinhart Foodservice


Reinhart is one of the largest foodservice distributors in the country and we’re local in Chicago! Our corporate office is stationed in Rosemont and we serve many of Chicagoland’s leading restaurants and foodservice operations from our distribution center right over the Wisconsin border.

For over 40 years, Reinhart Foodservice has delivered much more than cases to our customers. We aim to provide the best products, service and solutions every day. Especially in Chicago, that means providing a broad product assortment to service the varying cuisines, tastes, flavors and ingredients thriving in the Windy City. We offer more than 10,000 SKUs, including top national brands as well as our exclusive brands portfolio including fresh meat, seafood, produce, dairy, and bakery goods.

At Reinhart, we are committed to the highest levels of service, delivering a number of value-added solutions to help our customers succeed. This includes menu planning assistance, trends and industry insights via our quarterly magazine, nutrition services support, imported items, foodservice management software and training. Here’s just a taste of what we offer:

  • Chef Consult: Our on-staff chef will become one of your top restaurant resources and experts. Chef Paul helps operators develop their businesses, enhance their menus and forecast feature menu and ingredient trends. Chef Paul truly partners with you in your kitchen.
  • Bev/Chem Solutions: Prompt and reliable service after the sale distinguishes Reinhart from our competition. Highly trained, on-staff service professionals provide installation, training and preventive maintenance to keep your beverage and chemical equipment working for you.
  • Gourmet Foodservice Group/Direct Ship: We provide the finest, highest quality products with an emphasis on customer service. With the expertise of chefs and foodservice professionals, we are dedicated to providing products that are difficult to find in the best quality. We also offer a value-added, one stop-shopping experience for your high-end culinary needs.
  • MenuHUB: Reinhart is the source for a menu that meets all your needs. And no one else offers a menu program like this. Stay current and stay fresh with ready updates of menu and/or inserts. Count on your trusted, Reinhart connection – we’re not just an impersonal, online menu vendor.

Get It Right From Us is more than our tagline—it is our culture and approach to our customers. As your trusted partner, Chicago operators know that we work for your satisfaction, product consistency and value. Whatever the customer needs Reinhart is there to prove that you made the right choice for your distributor partner.

Come visit our division in Oak Creek, WI and find out why independent and chain customers in Chicagoland choose Reinhart.



Monical's Pizza


Monical’s Pizza was founded in 1959 in Tolono, Illinois and has grown to 65 units today with restaurants in three states. In 1969 the company developed what may have been one of the earliest “bundled meal” offerings called the Family Pleaser® consisting of a signature thin crust pizza, family garden salad and pitcher of soft drink.

In the over 50 years since then, Monical’s has served families of all kinds and adapted in many ways to changing consumer needs. Two of the things that haven’t changed, however, are the thin crust pizza recipe and the Family Pleaser, which is the same bundled meal and now part of the company’s mission statement: “The Family Pleaser. People Pleasing People.”

Through the many changes and challenges of the last half-century, Monical’s Pizza has remained an anchor in the communities in which they operate and a financially stable business entity. Anyone in the restaurant business knows how difficult it is to be around for that long and still be viable. For many years, the company has received letters (and now social media comments) from guests who have moved away and still recall fondly their experiences at Monical’s. Fortunately the frequency of these messages has only been increasing in recent years, which is a testimony to the strength of the brand and the hospitality consciousness of the people who for so many years have made up the Monical’s Team.

Click here to find the Monical’s Pizza location near you.

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