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Gibsons Steakhouse: 25 Years a Cut Above

By Paul Biasco | November 17, 2014 8:25am
 Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, celebrating 25 years on Rush Street, has become one of the city's most famous and successful restaurants.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
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GOLD COAST — Consistency is king at Gibsons.

The restaurant, which is celebrating its 25th year on Rush Street, recently was listed as the top-grossing independent restaurant in Chicago, racking up sales of nearly $22.4 million last year. The famed steakhouse is the eighth highest-grossing in the nation, according to Restaurant Business magazine.

How consistent is Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse?

Six of the waiters working at the restaurant on a recent Tuesday night have been there since the day it opened. So have executive chef Audrey Triplett and many of the bartenders. The current sous chef started 23 years ago as a dishwasher.

“It's giving that person the ability to have a great job, take care of his family or friends, and grow," said John Colletti, managing partner at Gibsons. "All of that adds to our philosophy of great service and also making the customer comfortable.”

With 230 seats, the restaurant served 341,345 meals last year with an average check tab of $71.

Zagat reviewers call Gibsons, named for the Gibson martini,  "a first-class icon" and a "beef palace," saying the restaurant and its suburban sequels "tempt serious steak lovers with flavorful meat and all the trimmings, towering desserts, stiff drinks and a wide wine selection."

But Colletti said, "You can have the greatest of food, but if you don’t have service to go along with it, you might as well close your doors."

The restaurant wasn't always packed seven nights a week.

Back in 1989, Rush Street wasn't like it is today, but the founders of the steakhouse, Steve Lombardo and Hugo Ralli, vowed to provide the best beef and service possible, according to Colletti. Over the years, the customer base grew, as well as the list of celebrity regulars.

A photo from Gibsons' 25th anniversary celebration in April showed one table being shared by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his son Patrick, and Bulls and Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

When someone famous comes in "we give them the courtesy they need; no one asks for an autograph,” Colletti said.

The main reason people come to Gibsons is the steak. Of the roughly 600 dinners the restaurant puts out a night, 475 are cuts of beef. Gibsons' steaks are USDA Gibsons Prime Angus beef; the restaurant group is the only one in the country to have its own USDA certification.

About seven years ago, the company hired Randy Waidner as executive chef and tasked him with finding the best cut of beef in the United States. He searched for three years.

Gibsons found a specific group of 300 ranchers with a specific type of cattle that were raised the same way. The restaurant turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about three years ago was granted its own designation of beef from the USDA.

"There's really no one else in the country that has this beef. It's that rare," Colletti said. "It's so consistent, it's mind-boggling."

Gibsons ages each steak for 40 days in a vacuum-sealed bag in its own juices, a style known as wet-aging.

The restaurant is a 24-hour a day, 7-days-a-week enterprise. When the doors close at night — the bar closes at 2 a.m. — the night staff immediately comes in to clean. About 4:30 a.m. the bakers arrive. At 5:30 a.m., the chef comes in. Lunch begins at 11 a.m.

"Our restaurant does not stop," Colletti said. "Ever."