Tony Durpetti will turn 72 this February, meaning he’s still younger than the iconic Chicago steakhouse Gene & Georgetti, which he co-owns with his wife, Marion.
When you consider that it’s been more than seven decades since the River North landmark opened its doors in 1941—when Durpetti was still a toddler—it’s easy to understand why their latest venture is kind of a big deal. “I joke with people, I tell them we’re a very progressive group,” he quips. “It took us 74 years to decide to do this.”
On June 28, the family-owned operation cut the ribbon on Gene & Georgetti in Rosemont, the first new location of the restaurant since Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving his third term as president. The restaurant opened to the public on July 22. Durpetti admits this isn’t the first time the idea of expanding has been broached, but it is the first time it was truly, seriously considered. The deal had to be right and, even more importantly, it had to be theirs.
That’s simply how the Durpetti family does business.
“I did this with the family involved, my daughter [Michelle] and Richard [Ciota] are either going to rejuvenate me or kill me. One or the other,” Durpetti jokes.
Michelle, who owns her own wedding and event planning business, will be the marketing and special events manager, and is also a managing partner of Gene & Georgetti, while Ciota, her cousin, is a managing partner and will serve as general manager and oversee operations at both locations. The family ties extend the full distance as well. One of the original founders, Gene Michelotti, was Marion’s father. Alfredo “Georgetti” Federighi was the other.
The restaurant turned over to the Durpettis when Gene passed away, and Tony has been all-in since he sold his advertising business in 1996. “I knew all the employees, first of all because it was family owned all the time,” Tony says. “But I was also one of the best customers. I would take my clients there for dinner. Without knowing all of them, I would have never undertaken this.”
Michelle says the idea to open a suburban location at the former Rosewood steakhouse location at 9421 W. Higgins Road was championed by Ciota. As they began to piece together the plan, the challenges of maintaining and evolving such an established brand starting to surface.
“I think whenever you do anything new, there are equal parts excitement, equal parts fear, sleeplessness, pride, I think you go through a gauntlet of emotion, and I think every person in every position on this team is going through those things as frequently as we are,” Michelle says.
The menu, which features a wide array of choices but is, of course, best known for its prime steaks, including the Broiled T-Bone Steak ($51.50), is “basically the same” across the locations, Tony says. That made hiring an executive chef a pretty unique process. If you couldn’t guess by now, Tony also wanted that decision to be a personal one. While eating lunch at the popular Italian restaurant Piccolo Sogno Due, chef/owner Tony Priolo recommended Luis Quiroz, who had spent nine years at the helm of Barrington Country Bistro.
The family, Michelle admits, put Quiroz “through the ringer” before they brought him on board. He was asked initially to cook something off the cuff in their kitchen, which resulted in a lamb chop dish Michelle says was “out of this world.”
With that decision in place, the décor came next. In many ways, Michelle says melding old-fashioned success with modern refinement was one of the most rewarding tasks. “Gene & Georgetti opened in 1941,” she says. “So maintaining and restoring that décor in that environment and that ambiance has been our utmost priority down there. But here, in this new location, we don’t have that responsibility since it’s new. We were inspired stylistically by what is great about Gene & Georgetti, but obviously, we have to be aware and in touch with what’s current. I think what people will find is that it’s a current version of the classic.”
This was also the first time Michelle has been a managing partner of the business she grew up around. “My father has been a mentor to me. Personally, he’s my hero, but he’s been a mentor to me in the business world since I was a kid,” she adds. “I used to follow him to his office whenever I got the chance. The opportunity to collaborate with him on a brand-new project at this point in his life and my life is a pretty special thing.”
Tony and Michelle admit the opening has been a work in process, but that they expect it to take “six months to a year” before the restaurant assumes its own identity. The 5,000-square foot The Estate, a private events venue, is already booked solid and has been a huge success, Michelle says. And when the question of thinking even further ahead comes up, Tony quickly laughs and says “to ask the young people.”
“We hope, in the next three to five years, to continue to elevate the brand and grow the brand 100 percent,” Michelle steps in. “We want to be able to take that original idea of Gene & Georgetti and bring it to as many people as we can. Dedication to quality service, integrity of product—those values still exist, and we love being able to bring them to people today.”
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