Maggiano's president looks ahead on chain's 20th anniversary

Staff Writer
Maggiano's president looks ahead on chain's 20th anniversary

Steve Provost, president of the 44-unit Maggiano’s Little Italy, said the restaurant has come a long way since first opening its doors on Nov. 11, 1991.

For one thing, the banquet room where Provost and other officials from parent company Brinker International would celebrate Maggiano’s 20th anniversary had to be added later, when demand for private parties overwhelmed the small dining room at Grand Avenue and Clark Street in Chicago.

Provost said the chain’s family-style service wasn’t initially offered either, but was added after Mark Tormey, the partner at Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises who opened and operated Maggiano’s for years, made enough money serving unlimited portions for a reasonable per-person price that family-style service became part of the permanent menu, Provost said.

While “the guest led us to those first innovations,” Provost said, Maggiano’s came up with its popular current promotion, a buy-one-take-one-home offer of any Classic Pasta, in August 2009 in response to the recession. Overwhelming guest response made the offer part of the permanent menu for Dallas-based Maggiano’s, which Lettuce Entertain You sold to Brinker in 1995.

Provost spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News from the original Maggiano’s in Chicago to discuss the chain’s direction for the future.

Maggiano’s started out as a family-style Italian restaurant, and 20 years later your most popular promotion is a buy-one-take-one-home offer for Classic Pastas. Was it hard to get to this price value point given your history?

Brands have to innovate, because the guest and the market are always changing. But you always have to innovate within your true compass. Our true compass, in a word, is abundance. What we’ve stood for since day one, when Rich [Melman of Lettuce Entertain You] opened the doors 20 years ago, is that this is a place where you’ll have real traditional Italian classics and more than you could ever eat.

Fast forward to the Great Recession and “new normal” … where even high-end dining is getting hurt, and so what do we do? The Classic Pastas idea was the most compelling, but to me what was brilliant was that it was in the north star of the tradition of what makes Maggiano’s. It was a complete outgrowth of banquets and family style.