Crain’s Chicago Business: Service, Celebrity and Six Decades of Red Meat
By: Dee Gill
Published: November 13, 2006

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Chicago’s Gene & Georgetti has it all figured out

Meals and deals: Tony Durpetti and his wife, Marion, toast at the restaurant he bought from his father-in-law in 1990. The Chicago landmark plays host to big names in entertainment and business. The CBOT-CME merger, announced last month, was hatched there.
So little has changed at the Gene & Georgetti steakhouse in 65 years, it’s hard to imagine it as a hot spot for rock stars or pop icons. The interior remains dark and old-fashioned despite an expansion and renovation in 1996. The wait staff is still all male, and some of them are old enough to remember Frank Sinatra’s visits. The “regulars” include a lot of older politicians.

But here it is, the dawn of a new century, and stars who regularly grace the covers of People magazine are taking tables at Gene & Georgetti. Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik and actors Keanu Reeves and David Schwimmer have all dined there in the past year. Russell Crowe brought an entourage of 17 and ended up posing for snapshots with the owner’s family after hours. A couple of months ago, Will Ferrell put a birthday cake for his father in the kitchen fridge and had dinner with his family upstairs.

Tony Durpetti and his wife, Marion, bought the restaurant from his father-in-law, Gene Michelotti, in 1990. Mr. Durpetti says the rich and famous continue to dine at Gene & Georgetti because the staff knows how to treat such modern-day royalty: professionally. They offer great, discreet service, Mr. Durpetti says. And they never fawn.

“Our waiters are real waiters,” he says. “They’re not waiters waiting to be actors and writers.”

The company has turned restaurant work, typically a high-turnover business, into a career. Sizable tips that come with $400 dinner tabs help. But the restaurant also provides medical coverage for all 50 of its employees and, if they want to pay $85 a month extra, their families, too.

As a result, almost no one leaves. The chef has been there 30 years, and a couple of dishwashers have worked there for 27 years each. “The joke is that someone has to die to get a job here,” Mr. Durpetti says. When there is an opening, he says, one of the staff brings in a cousin or nephew and makes sure he does the job well.

The customers trust the staff to let them eat in peace and to not exploit their fame. When Us Weekly magazine called to ask if Russell Crowe had indeed eaten at the restaurant, Mr. Durpetti confirmed. But he declined to share the pictures.

©2006 by Crain Communications Inc.

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