Gioco, a neighborhood restaurant pioneer that opened in 1999 before the South Loop real estate boom began, may soon end its 18-year run. A broker has listed the restaurant space for lease and is searching for a tenant who will pay 2017 market price. The restaurant’s lease is up in August 2018, but the landlord is optimistic that another tenant could be in place before the lease expires which would force the rustic Italian restaurant to close.
The rent should skyrocket with the new lease thanks to the dozens of condo towers built over the years near Roosevelt and Michigan avenues, said Gioco co-owner Howard Davis. Back when it opened 18 years ago at 1312 S. Wabash Ave., Gioco was the only retail spot around.
“North Siders were a little hesitant to come down here, but once the area got more built up, they became comfortable about experiencing the South Side,” Davis said. “The South Loop’s not really the South Side, but we hope we did a little bit to break the barrier between the North Side and the South Side.”
The interest to continue operating is waning. Co-owner Jerry Kleiner has moved to California, and Davis is busy with his legal practice and at Bar Roma in Andersonville. In fact, the restaurant’s general manager, Jose Luis Lopez, has run the restaurant for the last few years. If the restaurant were to survive — at this address or another — it would be under Lopez’s guidance as Davis and Kleiner are in the process of transferring ownership to Lopez and other restaurant workers.
“They’ll be part of the competitive bidding process,” Davis said. “They’re doing a great job with the restaurant — the food and the service is still great, but the rent’s going to go up a lot after 20 years.”
Gioco is a white tablecloth restaurant serving up Northern Italian fare for western tastes. The space was a Prohibition-era speakeasy before Gioco opened. The kitchen churns out thin-crust pizzas, fresh pastas, and other Italian classics.
Davis maintained they have a positive relationship with the building’s owner and that the restaurant is making money. Broker Scott Reinish, representing landlord Scott Thornton, hopes he can find a deal soon. He listed the 20,000-square-foot space about 90 days ago. He was a bit more blunt than Davis about the restaurant’s future.
“They’ve been there for 20 years — the reality is their run is over,” he said.
The shutter would also wipe out the last vestiges of KDK Restaurant Group, the company Davis and Kleiner started in 1991 with Vivo in the West Loop. They went on to open Red Light and Marché in West Loop, and Opera in South Loop. All have closed. Vivo, though no longer part of the company, closed last year.
“I always analogize it to children,” Davis said. “Some go on and some don’t, but they all have their own unique identity and spirit.”
Gioco has grown up with the neighborhood and developed quite a following in the South Loop. Davis thanked his customers, and acknowledged that changes could happen soon: “It was a good run,” he said. “If it’s not meant to continue then it won’t.”
While a shutter may take some time and there’s no closing date yet, fans are advised to stop by Gioco and pay their last respects while they still can.