Hugo Ralli and Steve Lombardo: Business Masters
By Jessica Girdwain
Two signatures on the back of an envelope in 1989 sealed a deal that would become the Gold Coast’s legendary Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Since that day, business partners Steve Lombardo and Hugo Ralli have established an empire: Gibsons, in Chicago and Rosemont; two outposts of Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House; Luxbar; and Quartino Ristorante Pizzeria Wine Bar. A third Gibsons location, in Oak Brook, is set to open in May.
It wasn’t a swift rise to the top. For the first couple of years, Gibsons was broke. Lombardo admits that it was financially tough raising four kids while launching Gibsons, but he says he always focused on the future. “We made no money during those years, but we could feel it was going to be successful— everyone seemed to like it. There was no other choice but to keep going.”
The gamble paid off: Gibsons’ downtown location—a bona fide celeb-magnet— now stands as the highest-grossing restaurant for its size in the country, raking in $20 million in its 8,400 square feet of space. “No one else can match that,” Lombardo says. Local clientele (even regulars who live in NYC are considered “local”) are a focus, as is keeping checks reasonable. “We’re full every night,” says Lombardo.
And lest you be concerned about the state of the city’s restaurant industry, Ralli cites Chicago’s strength: “In the past 20 years, we’ve become a restaurant city,” he notes. “We’re getting really good here about knowing and appreciating good food and service.” 1028 N. Rush St., 312-266-8999; gibsonssteakhouse.com
Known for: Ten-ounce martinis in a dessert glass. “We were the fi rst, now everyone’s doing it,” says Ralli.
Two peas: Both Lombardo and Ralli say they’ve never had a fi ght in 20 years. “It’s an industry full of big egos, but we don’t have them. We both just want the business to succeed,” says Ralli.
Happy birthday: Servers sing the famous song at ear-splitting levels in a rapid fi ve seconds almost every night.
Star server: Ralli says longtime waiter Mohammed Sekhani can memorize a table of 20’s entire order: “He’s never made a mistake.”
photographs by anthony tahlier