On the heels of winning a lifetime achievement award at the Time Out Chicago Eat Out Awards Monday night, news comes that Scott Harris is once again earning that title wholeheartedly. The man who the Tribune named restaurateur of the year tells Eater he's planning to take his already-successful Mia Francesca restaurant chain nationwide, starting on the coasts and then bringing things back to the Midwest. Currently, there are 22 Francescas in the Chicago area and Madison, Wis.
"I've hooked up with some consulting partners to show me how to raise money and become more of a corporation," Harris said. "I've been mom and pop for so long." Harris already has five projects in the works in California and Arizona and one on deck in Raleigh, N.C.; he'll build either Mia Francesca, Davanti Enoteca or a hybrid of the two, depending on the location. And while Harris had never considered Raleigh, he was made an offer he couldn't refuse. "The owner of a bunch of [Renaissance Inn] hotels came to me and said he wanted Francesca's in his hotel. He said, 'How does $1 million sound?'" Clearly, Harris thought that sounded pretty good.
Harris plans to open around 88 restaurants in the next seven to 10 years. He raised $5 million for the initial projects and said he'll then turn his attention to large Midwest cities, including Indianapolis, Cincinnati and St. Louis. He said he'll use the revenue from the new restaurants to fund the construction of the second phase of expansion.
With that much growth over the next decade, Harris does have concerns, but is confident they'll be successful if they follow their current formula. "I'm very concerned," Harris said. "We're just trying to do the best we can do. Keep it simple. Keep true to our formula. Hopefully it'll work."
Harris also has plans to grow his Francesca's Pizzeria Napoletana concept as well, and is starting in San Diego's Little Italy area where Harris said he's an outsider in a neighborhood whose restaurants are owned by the same handful of families. His current pizzaiolo, Alfredo Colle, will help him open the place, but Harris said Colle eventually wants to open a few places back east in New Jersey. Harris shuttered his Lincoln Park location, but is going to open it up on Taylor Street soon.
As if all of this weren't enough to keep Harris busy, he's teamed with Tom Culleeney, a corporate chef from Lettuce Entertain You who worked on LEYE's partnership with Krispy Kreme and has a passion for doughnuts. Harris said Culleeney called him about five months ago with the idea and Harris jumped all over it. He said he feels like he's a little late to the game since Brendan Sodikoff already opened the Doughnut Vault, but he's still excited about it and eventually wants to open a bunch of shops.
The still-unnamed doughnut place will be in a small alcove off the space that was Wicker Park's Francesca's Forno, which is undergoing a renovation to become a bruscetteria and wine bar—and a doughnut shop. Until the space is ready to let people inside, which Harris hopes will be around June 1, they'll make the doughnuts and hand them out to commuters off baking racks to get people excited about the concept. They're shooting to have four to five varieties between $1.50 and $3 (possibly with free coffee) and have been testing flavors like creme brulee, lemon curd, chocolate, maple glazed with bacon and old fashioned. "We're re-working that space outside the back by the El tracks," Harris said. "About 5,500 people get on and off in the morning and afternoon. We'll open it right out the back door there." Guess we should get in line now.
· Izard Scores Big at Time Out Chicago Eat Out Awards; Boka Group Named Restaurateurs of the Year [~EChi~]
· Trib Names Anthony Martin Chef of the Year [~EChi~]
· All Scott Harris Coverage on Eater Chicago [~EChi~]
· The Doughnut Vault Officially Open [~EChi~]