Lessons from growing a small food business

I grew up on a farm in Greece and maintained a residence there that I 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 drawn to the restaurant business. I had the opportunity to work in restaurants and clubs in Chicago, learn all aspects of the business from scratch, and had the chance to share my knowledge and work with other family members to develop 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 is also Supervisor of Palatine Township. Stelio owns the world-famous Five O’clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee, an old-fashioned supper club voted one of the best steakhouses in the United States. Stelio maintains all the traditions of this popular club.

We opened the restaurants in the northwest suburbs because we noticed a growing population and we felt that people would stay closer to home if they could receive the same great food and customer service here as the top restaurants upscale downtown Chicago.

As our restaurants grew in popularity, we continued to seek 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 have survived the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions by staying in touch with our customers and assuring them that we are following all recommended guidelines.

Through social media sites and emails, we regularly communicate with our customers. We told them about the precautions we were taking in the kitchen and with our staff. We promised them social distancing and anything that would make them comfortable.

People ask the secret of our success. There is no secret. Hard work, long hours, passion for the job. We always hire the best chefs and make sure our food is second to none. In the restaurant business, you are only worth your last meal.

I have always believed in giving back to the community and to that end I am proud to be a permanent member of Leadership 100, a very prestigious group of philanthropic Greek Americans, and a member of the Business Development Council of the village of Schaumburg.

Recently my sons started a culinary arts scholarship program at Harper Community College. I am proud to be the recipient of many community awards, which I share with my family.

We have always worked hard to promote our restaurants and have implemented numerous loyalty programs in all our establishments. My favorite is Millionaire’s Club at Chicago Prime Steakhouse. Members sign up for $50 and receive an additional $50 per month for food and beverage purchases.

I will forever be grateful to my family and all of our employees and especially our customers for over 40 wonderful years 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 business development council of the village of Schaumburg and a member of “Leadership 100”, a very prestigious group of philanthropic Greek businessmen from all over the world.

About Marc Womack

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