Often credited for turning West Loop into an actual destination in the city, Italian spot Vivo celebrated its 20th anniversary on September 15. And to give back and say thanks for helping the restaurant reach this incredible milestone owner Dan Krasny is kicking off a two-week celebration.
Between today and Nov. 15, diners can enjoy a $20 three-course menu with a portion of the proceeds from this event benefitting the U.S. Holocaust Museum to honor the memory of Krasny's mother, who he calls his hero. Vivo, which was the first restaurant opened by Krasny and his then business partners, Jerry Kleiner and Howard Davis, took a chance on a then out-of-the-way neighborhood where few people ventured. Vivo, with its romantic elevator-shaft table, vibrant energy and wine-bottle-lined wall, helped make the West Loop a dining destination.
Now 20 years on, the other KDK restaurants—Marche and Red Light—are gone, but other spots like Girl & The Goat, Maude's Liquor Bar, Sushi Wabi and Blackbird have sprouted to make this one of Chicago's most vibrant restaurant rows. Eater talked to Krasny about the last 20 years (full disclosure: I worked as a server at Vivo from 2003 to 2006).
How does it feel to have made it 20 years?
It feels like a milestone. It really does. It's good, but I tell you the last four years have been tough. Business has changed so much since the beginning. The first 10 were great and the last 10 have been a tougher market.
Why do you think Vivo has lasted 20 years?
I attribute it to us being more of a special place, a destination. We're an institution more than anything else. We're as busy as the market will allow. Twenty-five percent of the market is gone; people aren't going out as much anymore. Competition is coming into play, so we focused on strengthening our menu to the point we thought it was the best, we looked at every aspect to give value and to capitalize on our service.
Did you ever imagine it would still be open 20 years in?
[Laughs.] I couldn't think that far ahead. If I was asked 20 years ago to look ahead, I wouldn't know how to answer. But looking back, boy it went quick. Lots of people have come in and out and it's been a wild ride. This restaurant of the three was always the jewel. I think all three could have been really spectacular if we all had the same focus.
So do you look at Marche and Red Light closing as bittersweet?
It's absolutely bittersweet. It wasn't about winning or losing. You see what happened with the other two places and the syngergy we created. Vivo was the [first] of the three and the restaurant misses its sisters.
Looking back, what do you love most about Vivo?
There have been great things: the food, the people. [The staff] had so many great feelings about meeting people here or working here or getting engaged here. It's really done a nice thing for the society. It definitey made the West Loop. My business entity (KDK Restaurant Group) has nothing to do with the restaurant; there's a lot of people that make it great.
What are some of the fondest memories?
I do remember the first day we opened in the fall of '91. I was outside and wondered "what if nobody comes and we're so wrong?" That wasn't the case. But also, I had dinner with Bono in 1992. I got to meet the mayor. I helped to start Taste of Randolph. There were a lot of good things.
You chose to give a portion of the proceeds from this anniversary menu to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Why was it important to honor your mother in this way?
My mom was my hero; she died in 1996. She was one who taught me perserverance and to survive is the key to everything. The restaurant business is like the theater—the show must go on. The heart and soul comes from her. I've always wanted to do something like this.
To get in on Vivo's 20th anniversary $20 three-course menu, call 312-733-3379 or go online.