Lessons from the growth of a small fine dining business
I grew up on a farm in Greece, and I've maintained a residence there that myself and other family members continue to visit to this day.
I came to America in 1967, and like many of my fellow Greek immigrants, I was attracted to the restaurant business. I had the opportunity to work in restaurants and clubs in Chicago, learning every aspect of the business from the ground up, and have been fortunate enough to share my knowledge and work with other family members in building our businesses.
My wife, Maggie, and I live in Inverness. We have two sons, Stelio and John, and two grandchildren, George and Magdalyn. We are a very active business family. We own and operate Chicago Prime Steakhouse in Schaumburg.
Our son John owns Chicago Prime Italian, about 4 miles down the street, and he also serves as a supervisor of Palatine Township. Stelio owns the world-renowned Five O'clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee, an old school supper club, voted one of the top steakhouses in the U.S. Stelio maintains all of the traditions of this popular club.
We opened the restaurants in the northwest suburbs because we noticed a growing population and we felt people would stay closer to home if they could receive the same good food and customer service here as the upper scale restaurants in downtown Chicago offered.
As our restaurants grew in popularity, we continued to look for other opportunities. Although both restaurants offer banquet facilities, we wanted something that could accommodate larger events such as weddings, corporate meetings and other private events. So in 2017 we opened Avante Banquets and Conference Center in Fox River Grove, just west of Barrington Road.
Our restaurants survived the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions by keeping in touch with our customers and assuring them we were following all of the recommended guidelines.
Through social media sites and emails, we communicated with our customers on a regular basis. We let them know the precautions we were taking in the kitchen and with our staff. We promised them social distancing and anything else that would make them feel comfortable.
People ask the secret of our success. There's no secret. Hard work, long hours, a passion for the business. We always hire the top chefs and make sure our food is second to none. In the restaurant business, you're only as good as your last meal.
I have always believed in giving back to the community and toward that end I am proud to be a standing member of Leadership 100, a highly prestigious group of philanthropic Greek Americans, and a member of the village of Schaumburg's Business Development Board.
Recently my sons started a Culinary Arts Scholarship program at Harper Community College. I am proud to be a recipient of many community awards, which I share with my family.
We've always worked hard promoting our restaurants and have executed many loyalty programs at all of our locations. My personal favorite is The Millionaire's Club at Chicago Prime Steakhouse. Members buy in for $50 and receive an additional $50 monthly toward food and beverage purchases.
I'll always be grateful to my family and to all of our employees and especially to our customers for a wonderful 40-plus years of serving the northwest suburbs.
• Inverness resident George Kalkounos and his family own four restaurants, Chicago Prime Steakhouse and Chicago Prime Italian in Schaumburg, Avante Banquets and Conference Center in Fox River Grove and Five O'clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee. He is also a member of the village of Schaumburg Business Development Board and a member of "Leadership 100," a highly prestigious group of philanthropic Greek businessmen from around the world.