Today we’ve got some big news from a storied, family-owned restaurant group. (Spoiler: said group is not Lettuce Entertain You.) Gina Stefani, daughter of Phil, is set to open Mad Social (1140 W. Madison St., West Loop), Stefani Signature Restaurants’ first new concept in 14 years, on February 3.
Stefani gave us a taste of what’s on deck for hungry West Loopers and Bulls and Hawks fans grabbing a pre- or post-game bite. (Another spoiler: not a sports bar.)
You didn’t start your career in the family business. What prompted the decision to get into the biz?
This was my destiny, in some capacity. But my parents encouraged me to find my own path. They said: “Graduate college. Get a job outside of the company.” For five years I worked in events. Two years ago I made the decision to join [the family business] as project manager.
Why did you choose the West Loop?
I’m starting much like my dad started, in an up-and-coming neighborhood. [Ed. note: Phil Stefani’s first restaurant, Stefani’s, opened in Lincoln Park on Fullerton Avenue in 1980.]
Despite being located up the street from the United Center, you’ve made it clear this will not be a sports bar. What kind of vibe should we expect?
Rustic French industrial chic. Rustic in the sense that there is a lot of reclaimed wood. We took an old wooden door and put vintage frames on it. I will add photos of my family over the years. I want this to feel like an extension of people’s homes and to get to know customers, so I’m sharing a personal side of my life.
Adolfo [Garcia, the designer] created a large piece of art by carving deer heads out of reclaimed wood. When I first saw it, I didn’t know if I wanted it. But now I have named the deer: the board of directors, which includes Phil (my dad), Claudio (Dad’s partner), Steven (Stefani’s chief financial officer), and Steve (Stefani’s director of operations). I love them because they are watching over me.
Okay, but will there be TVs?
Two plasma screens—set on mute. [Ed. note: These TVs will, in fact, show sports when appropriate.]
Who’s the chef?
Mariela Bolaños, who was sous chef at Bar Siena. She is young and has traveled all over the world. She started two weeks ago and we dove into the menu immediately. I told her my vision, and she brought it to life.
Are you sticking with the family’s Italian-food niche?
American! Italian food is my heritage and I’m super-proud of that, so there will be a few Italian dishes. But the rest is locally inspired with new American twists and some Mexican, Spanish, French, and Asian touches. For instance, we’ll have a duck confit bao bun. We’re looking to price majority of the menu under $20.
Will there be burgers?
A debate that went on for about a month: to do or not to do. But it is important, so we are in the midst of creating a really great burger. We will grind 10 pounds of meat in-house daily. So we will have burgers until the meat runs out.
And fried chicken?
Funny you should ask. Chef made this amazing chicken and waffles dish. The waffle will have a churro-like breading, a little sweet and savory at the same time.