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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
February 2016

Six Ingredients to Restaurant Success


Almost half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry throughout the course of their lives, and 46 percent of restaurant employees say they would one day like to own a restaurant.

The restaurant industry in Illinois is comprised of more than 27,000 restaurants, representing $23 billion in sales and 9 percent of the workforce. It is the state’s primary economic engine, providing nearly 530,000 jobs. Within the next nine years, these numbers are expected to grow by 7.2 percent.

27,000 restaurants, and growing. These figures are impressive…and perhaps even daunting to restaurateurs both seasoned and new. Inevitably, growth brings healthy competition to the market space, and more competition engenders the need to create a compelling dining experience that will resonate with consumers for the long term.

How to begin laying the groundwork for success and longevity in the dynamic restaurant industry? The Illinois Restaurant Association turned to several esteemed members and partners, who have shared their experiences and suggestions for those entering the arena as first time or even as repeat restaurateurs. Their feedback inspired the following six-ingredient “recipe” towards achieving success.

1. Be a Business Minded Creative.
One of the most compelling aspects of the restaurant industry is the opportunity to flex one’s creative muscle. But before creating menus, making interior design decisions and selecting artwork or furniture comes serious business planning that will lay the foundation for success.

Create a robust business plan that outlines your capital needs and projects your costs and earnings over the next several years. Every restaurateur we interviewed heeded: Overestimate your capital needs and open with money in the bank to cover your operating costs for at least six months, if not longer.

“Find the intersection where artistry and financial responsibility meet,” says Kevin Boehm, principal of Boka Restaurant Group, which includes award winning restaurants Boka, Girl & The Goat, Little Goat Diner, Momotaro, Balena, GT Fish & Oyster, Swift & Sons and others. “The only way your art can survive is with a sustainable model."

It’s also crucial to surround yourself with experts who can help navigate the complexities. Align with a knowledgeable and experienced realtor, accountant, attorney and insurance broker who will provide counsel and ensure that critical bases are covered.

“Proper planning, even for the unknown, is essential to not just success in your first year, but success for the long term,” said Christine Tully Aranza, Co-Owner of Autre Monde Café & Spirits in Berwyn, IL. Her restaurant, which she co-owns with her husband John Aranza, sustained damage from an electrical fire on the heels of its first anniversary in 2012. Because Tully Aranza had procured proper insurance long before opening Autre Monde’s doors, the costs of the subsequent repairs were covered and she was able to move quickly towards reopening. Autre Monde continues to thrive today, and celebrates five years this spring.

“There are defining moments during the business planning phase where you have to sit down with your team and the experts with whom you’ve surrounded yourself to answer the tough questions of ‘what if this or that happens?’ And there’s no such thing as being over prepared. Take the time to find an educated broker and invest in comprehensive coverage.”

2. Train Yourself and Your Employees.
Those who come before you are the best teachers. Before you open your own business, gain experience by working in other restaurants in both front and back of house positions. This time will help you gain understanding of what you will seek from your own employees, as well as glean best practices.

“Make sure you have equal passion and focus on food, design, service and hospitality. It’s not enough in this competitive landscape to excel at just one of them,” says Kevin Boehm.

Also take advantage of the resources at your disposal, including the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA). “The IRA provides guidance on permits, licensing and important legislative issues,” says Sam Toia, president and CEO. “Being aware of these issues and utilizing the IRA as an educational resource and advocate helps restaurateurs understand intricate policies and regulations that can affect the bottom line.”

When it comes to your own team, learn how to love teaching and training.

“Invest in training,” says Jay Stieber, executive vice president and general counsel for Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, and also recently named Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the National Restaurant Association. “Your staff must be well trained and able to answer a customer’s question about food, taste and ingredients. Make sure they understand your vision of customer service and how you want your guests treated.”

Marc Epstein, principal at Four Corners Tavern Group, agrees. His rapidly growing group – which includes ten restaurants and bars to date – believes in aggressive training prior to opening to ensure his staff is well versed in all systems within the operation.

“One expense many first time operators fail to do is allocate enough time and money for training and practice before opening their doors. At Four Corners, we try to have three full days of dry runs, where we simulate being open. If we aren't satisfied with the execution of both front and back of house we will schedule more dry runs. We generally have two to three weeks of training in total before we go live with paying guests. Setting these standards is the most important thing an operator can do.”

3. Marketing, Marketing, Marketing.
Set aside a budget that allows you to begin marketing your restaurant several months prior to opening, and on an ongoing basis thereafter. Whether filling this position in-house, or aligning with a marketing and public relations firm, this essential step will ensure that your audience knows about your restaurant.

“It takes time to build traction via both traditional and social media channels, so it’s not advised to wait until you open before seeking marketing and PR support,” says Janet Isabelli, founder and CEO of Isabelli Media Relations, a Chicago-based agency representing clients in the hospitality and travel industries. “A strong marketing partner can help shape your brand story and pull out the components that will guide the spotlight. The goal is to generate a smart campaign that will lead to editorial placements and consumer demand prior to your opening, which will also give the restaurant invaluable inertia for continued press exposure in the months that follow.”

Social media is also a must when it comes to reaching the current dining generation. Familiarize yourself with major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the quickly emerging Periscope and Snapchat and appoint a member of your team who can champion these consumer-facing channels in concert with your marketing or PR firm. Many agencies and independent consultants offer content management support, training and guidance in this area.

4. Put in the Hours.
During his April 16, 2015 commencement speech to graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, Ground Round Grill and Bar CEO and National Restaurant Association Chairman Jack Crawford told future hospitality industry leaders, “Working in the restaurant industry isn’t easy. Do more than what is expected of you.”

Seasoned operators will often joke that when becoming a restaurateur, one also takes on the role of carpenter, repair expert, prep cook, bookkeeper, mentor and leader. The hours are long, but the rewards are great, with the opportunity to “make a difference in business and in other employees’ lives,” said Crawford.

5. Hire Well and Empower your Team.
A restaurant must provide more than well prepared, quality food and value to be successful. The team and culture in place will also define your restaurant.

Jay Stieber notes, “Front of house employees who deal directly with your guests are one of the keys to customer satisfaction. Always take the time to hire outgoing, personable, quality staff who will represent your brand well. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression – and your staff is on the front line.”

As owner and operator, you can’t be at all tables at all times, or back in the kitchen expediting every plate. While it can be difficult to “let go,” staff empowerment is key to building a unified team that truly cares about the guest experience.

“It is inevitable that operational issues will arise,” says Stieber. “From time to time reservations will run late, service may be slow, meals may be undercooked or overcooked. Empower your management team to solve problems on the spot so that customers feel cared for and leave happy. When an issue arises, you want a customer to walk away and tell friends – ‘I had a problem but that restaurant went out of its way to solve it’.”

6. Embrace Change.
The restaurant industry continually evolves – in legislative policy, culinary trends, how diners source news and information, what today’s consumers expect from their dining experience, hiring practices, employee expectations and more. The most successful restaurateurs are flexible, open-minded and willing to adapt to our dynamic industry. Seek opportunities to address the gaps you spot them in the market, and fill those voids with flair.

For more industry resources, visit

Photography by Jeff Schear Visuals

Flavor Profile

Meet Kevin Vaughan, Vaughan Hospitality Group

Kevin is the owner of six Irish-themed bar restaurants in Chicagoland, a member of the IRA Board of Directors, and a new member of the IRA Finance Committee in 2016. We recently sat down with Kevin to learn about his career path since he emigrated from Ireland, the importance of giving back to the community, and what he's looking forward to in 2016.

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
    • I was born in Ireland and our family moved to Chicago when I was 15 and opened the first Vaughan’s Pub on the northwest side. My first restaurant job was as a dishwasher. Working as a busboy and bartender paid for a big chunk of my college tuition. After college, I went to work with Arthur Andersen as a CPA for 13 years and when the firm collapsed due to the Enron debacle in 2002, my “lifeboat” was to work full time with Vaughan Hospitality Group (together with my brother Eamonn and my wife Kristan). Today, we operate six Irish-American themed locations: two Vaughan’s Pubs in Lakeview and on the Northwest side, Corcoran’s Grill & Pub in Old Town, Emerald Loop Bar & Grill in downtown Chicago, Monty Gaels Tavern & Grill in the North Center neighborhood and Square Celt Alehouse & Grill in Orland Park.
  • To what do you attribute your success?
    • My success can be most attributed to hard work, treating employees fairly, putting our customers first, being willing to adapt and change, and most of all, the support of my wife Kristan. Also, it is very important to be ethical and charitable by giving back as much as possible to the neighborhoods in which we have businesses.
  • What is your biggest reward working in the industry?
    • My biggest reward working in bars and restaurants is that they are fun environments. I love serving people. I also like that I can be my own boss – always “on” but with flexibility to be available to my family – I rarely miss a school event for my four sons!
  • What do you see as the biggest challenge facing bars/restaurants in Illinois?
    • The biggest challenges facing bars and restaurants in Illinois is the flattening Illinois economy and continuous increases in the number of laws and regulations that hurt our business and make it hard to operate profitably.
  • What do you see as being the most valuable resources/services that the IRA provides you?
    • The IRA is a fantastic organization that helps us build a community, encourages learning and, most of all, is our primary liaison to the government and influential politicians. If we are not constantly at the table telling people how important our industry is to Illinois, we will be victims of higher taxes and more regulations.

      Also, The IRA is also very active and successful in promoting Chicago as a culinary and tourist destination as a whole. The IRA does a lot for its members – Ask not what the IRA can do for you; ask what you can do for the IRA!
  • What are you looking forward to in 2016?
    • I am looking forward to more customers, lower costs, a festive St. Patrick’s season, a warm spring and summer, the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, the Cubs winning the World Series and the Bears making the playoffs!

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • Follow your dream; it is a great business! Quality. Experience. Location. Capital. It is not easy, but worth it. And remember – nights and weekends are required!
Kevin serves on the IRA’s Board of Directors and the IRA Government Relations Committee. He will also be named an IRA Finance Committee member at the 2016 Annual Meeting and Luncheon. For more information about Vaughan Hospitality Group, visit



Keep an Eye Out - Third Party Delivery Services on the Rise


Today’s technology has made food delivery easier than ever. With the rise of new delivery services and apps in the past few years, an alarming issue has come to the forefront of the restaurant industry – several third party delivery services are often delivering restaurants' food without their consent.

Many IRA members have expressed deep concerns over the disruptive practices of various third party delivery services that are currently delivering restaurants' food without entering into agreements with their restaurant. When a service is delivering food without your consent, a host of issues may arise – ranging from trademark infringement and lack of quality control to elevated menu prices and poor customer reviews.

A new Chicago-based startup called Bootler is a food delivery service search engine that compares the best prices for food and alcohol delivery between different third party delivery services. We encourage you to review the website to see if a third party service may be delivering your restaurant’s food without your knowledge.

The IRA is currently meeting with various stakeholders to examine these issues and encourage necessary regulations on services that are currently operating using deceptive practices.

We urge our membership to be aware of these services, and to contact the IRA if they are experiencing any problems. Please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or for more information.

A La Carte

Partnering with Sysco: A Recipe for Success


Sysco Chicago is part of the largest foodservice distribution network in North America. Located in Des Plaines, Illinois, the company and its 600+ employees service more than 6,000 customers. Its distribution range and customer base covers the entire Chicagoland market – from the Wisconsin border and Northwest Indiana to Utica in the south and DeKalb to the west. Learn about Sysco’s points of difference and how the company can serve as a partner to your business.

Relationships Since 1970
Sysco’s passion for building great relationships began with a simple promise: to assist foodservice operators by providing solutions for meals consumed away from home. From restaurants, hotels and inns to healthcare and educational facilities, Sysco works symbiotically with 400,000 customers to build successful businesses. The company aims to exceed expectations through efficient operations and accurate deliveries. Sysco also invests in its partners’ success by offering business planning and consulting services to enhance menu offerings, stay ahead of emerging trends, increase efficiencies and grow business.

Your Local Partner
Even as part of the largest foodservice distribution network in North America, Sysco Chicago emphasizes local relationships to continue leading the industry in customer support, value, and quality. We offer a wide variety of diverse products and services to our customers — from culinary research to business consulting services to access to local and sustainable products such as fresh pork, beef, seafood and produce.

From the Everyday to the Exotic
Because customers demand the very best in terms of quality and variety, Sysco offers more than 400,000 products — from high-end ingredients to restaurant supplies and equipment. The company markets and sells its own quality-assured Sysco brands alongside some of the most popular national brands available. At the same time, Sysco continues to offer a wide selection of regional, local and ethnic products to help customers keep pace with the ever changing wants and needs of today’s consumers. Customers also benefit from one of the largest and most sophisticated temperature-controlled supply lines in the business, delivery at the very highest level of quality, food safety and consistency.

Sysco Chicago
250 Wieboldt Drive
Des Plaines, IL 60016
(847) 699-5400
For more information, visit



Monti’s: Bringing the “City of Brotherly Love” to Chicago


Have you ever enjoyed a truly authentic Philly cheesesteak – with lean, crispy ribeye, warm and gooey cheese and a crusty, chewy bun? Husband and wife team Chef James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti have, and they want to share their hometown experience with all. From its exterior, Monti’s may appear as a typical neighborhood restaurant and bar, but inside, it’s bringing a little piece of the “City of Brotherly Love” to Chicago.

The restaurant also represents one of the fastest growing food segments: upscale quick service. Located in the heart of Lincoln Square, Monti’s features comfort food at its finest, crafted with high quality ingredients served in an inviting, social atmosphere. Chef Gottwald’s signature dish is…you guessed it – Authentic, Black Angus-ribeye Philly Cheesesteaks served on toasted rolls shipped in fresh daily from a 100 year-old Philadelphia bakery.

In addition to its most popular menu item, guests can also experience a range of comfort fare, including pizza, hoagies, grinders and another irresistible favorite: Monti’s celebrated jumbo wings, tossed with house-made Buffalo sauce made from scratch with melted butter. Add a list of more than 50 craft beers and ciders, and a cozy atmosphere to boot, and it’s easy to see why Monti’s has become a highly sought neighborhood joint!

Monti’s offers daily drink specials, including $1 off beers on Mondays, $2 off whiskeys and bourbons on Tuesdays and $5 martinis on Fridays.

Since opening, the restaurant has been prominently featured in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Reader, Thrillist, WGN’s Chicago’s Best, ABC’s Hungry Hound and the Food Network.

We will see you at Monti’s!

4757 N. Talman Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 942-6012
Follow on Twitter: @ilovemontis

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