ROGERS PARK — Leona's new owner, Tania Mavrakis, said she hopes to guide the famed Chicago restaurant chain into the future after launching a new menu.
The entire chain — save for the original location in Lakeview, which will be rebranded — was sold to Mavrakis by Leon Toia in November.
The first Leona's was named after Toia's grandmother 63 years ago.
But Mavrakis said its time for a change.
"Leona's is a Chicago institution, but it needs to find its way into the 21st Century," the Evanston resident said Tuesday night at the restaurant's Rogers Park location, 6935 N. Sheridan Road, where she unveiled new menu items.
Gone from Leona's are more expensive dishes, and those that aren't decidedly Italian, such as the ribs and pot roast meals, she said.
"The main idea of the menu is to keep it simple, homemade and Italian," she said.
More pasta dishes were added, including three new lasagnas and ravioli dishes, and an antipasto salad with spicy Italian dressing.
An Italian Beef sandwich also has made its debut, served on Leona's well-loved "Kick Ass Garlic Bread."
A new website and logo were also unveiled and more changes are on the way, Mavrakis said, including updates to the decor at the chain's nine locations.
Eventually, Leona's plaid tablecloths will make way for something more modern, she said.
But all the changes also bring growing pains for longtime customers who miss the old Leona's.
"I cannot lie, we did get upset customers, but we try to ease their fears or their pains" by encouraging them to try something new, she said.
Andrew Dickman, who has been the president of Leona's for nearly four years, said that even though change can be difficult, the new menu was more affordable for customers.
"Obviously change is tough, but change is necessary to evolve the concept," he said.
Blogger Jen Pontrelli, 27, said while dining in Rogers Park that Leona's new menu was "so far so good."
"It's pretty Chicago-Italian," said Pontrelli, of Lakeview, who was especially fond of the fried, bite-sized cannelloni. "I think I'll be back."