One of Chicago’s most recognized steakhouses, Gibsons, plans on opening restaurants in Arizona; Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Florida — expanding the chain’s presence outside of Illinois. It’s another aggressive move for the owners of the original Gold Coast standby, one of the city’s most recognizable restaurants. Gibsons had previously announced its partnership with celebrity chef José Andrés on a series of restaurants inside a new office tower over looking the Chicago River.
“We’re looking at new locations at a number of markets,” says Gibsons co-founder and chairman Steve Lombardo.
The expansion will extend to more than the steakhouse, says Lombardo. Gibsons Restaurant Group includes Hugo’s Frog Bar, Quartino, and Lux Bar. It also runs ChiSox Bar & Grill inside Guaranteed Rate Field. Gibsons already runs two locations outside of Illinois: The Boathouse in Orlando, Florida, and a Philadelphia location of Hugo’s, its seafood restaurant.
While Lombardo won’t provide a number of locations Gibsons plans to open, he did share where they’ll expand to first: Expect Quartino Ristorante, an Italian restaurant and wine bar, to open sometime next year in suburban Dallas. Lombardo says expect existing brands and variations to open across the country. Each location will be tweaked to a market while retaining the Gibsons hallmarks.
Known for a classic steakhouse setting with huge slabs of meat, giant pieces of cakes, and stiff martinis the Gibsons steakhouses lure corporate expense account holders, tourists, and customers celebrating special occasions, The steakhouse is one of highest-grossing restaurants in Chicago. It ranks No. 1 in the city on Restaurant Business’s independent restaurants nationwide survey. The magazine considers it independent by dividing the company up by brands. For example, there are three Gibsons steakhouses among the company’s 13 restaurants, with 11 in Chicago and its suburbs.
Lombardo is confident that his restaurants can thrive anywhere in the country. It just depends on finding the right space. For instance, he wouldn’t open a Quartino in Lincoln Park because it’s too close to the original in River North. Despite the lofty expansion plans, Lombardo, who co-founded Gibsons 32 years ago with Hugo Ralli, says the steakhouse will forever be a Chicago brand.
“Let’s be clear: Gibsons isn’t going anywhere — we’re still going to be there on Rush Street,” he says.
As part of its expansion plans, Gibsons has hired a new executive. Stephen Judge is the company’s new chief operating officer. Judge served most recently as president of cafe operations for Hard Rock International and has experience at Darden Restaurants. He was also the vice president of food and beverage at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Lombardo says Judge’s experience growing brands made him an ideal choice for Gibsons.
Chicago steakhouses have found success replicating its formula in other parts of the country. Morton’s the Steakhouse and Maple & Ash are among those opening locations outside the Midwest. However, a lack of on-premise dining has crushed business during COVID-19. Last year, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse exited downtown Chicago. Lawry’s The Prime Rib ended a 46-year run in December.
These struggles aren’t exclusive to Chicago and Gibsons’ brass expects business to rebound. In the interim they’ve expanded the sale of fresh meat to home cooks: “We’re selling a lot of steaks all over the country,” Lombardo says. “The brand is well known, more well known that I would have guessed.”
Beyond the partnership with Andrés — one of the most recognizable chefs in America — the company has taken risks. Gibsons Italia departs from the old-school steakhouse vibe with a modern buildout and retractable roof deck featuring views of downtown skyscrapers along the Chicago River. The restaurant is less than a half a mile away from Bank of America tower, home of the company’s collaborations with Andrés. An all-day cafe along the river and a steakhouse — a local iteration of Bazaar, Andrés’ brand with outposts in Las Vegas, South Beach, and New York — are planned.
The proximity between the Andrés project and Italia isn’t an issue for Lombardo. The latter’s performance during the pandemic has given him confidence.
“There’s enough room in the downtown marketplace,” Lombardo says. “Again, people have to get to work downtown. I have to tell you, Italia has done OK the last few months. We’re doing a decent amount of business.”