In the last challenge of Top Chef’s season 4, Stephanie Izard, one of the finalists, told the judges that her biggest weakness was second-guessing herself. Then she won. After she got back to Chicago, Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of Boka Restaurant Group had no trouble believing in her when they sank $1.5 million into the place she was opening. In 2010, Cassie Walker (now Cassie Walker Burke) shadowed Izard for Chicago during the moment of held breath before the launch of Girl & the Goat.
On its face, it sounds like a shrewd investment. Izard won a reality show watched by millions and refused to stop there. By thinking of herself as a brand, she has extended her 15 minutes of fame some two years and counting. That she’ll star in her own TV show one day isn’t a question of if, it’s a question of when.
But is Girl & the Goat a huge gamble? Izard ran a self-funded restaurant for nearly three years, then closed it after she got too stressed out. The concept isn’t novel, either: It’s a shared-plates gastropub, the kind of thing that Chicago — and even the West Loop — has seen before.
The truth is, the most hyped restaurant opening that Chicago has experienced in a while is probably both a calculated capitalization on a budding brand and a roll of the dice.
Just as with her TV win, Izard triumphed over the doubt. Girl & the Goat was named restaurant of the year by Eater and the Chicago Tribune. Even 10 years later, there’s still prestige in landing a weekend reservation there. And with a 2013 James Beard Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region and three more restaurants under her belt, Izard is now one of Chicago’s most accomplished chefs. No doubt about it.