Restaurateur and Owner
Among the city's most acclaimed restaurateurs, Chicago-born Donald J. Madia has mastered the art of collaboration to execute his singular unerring instincts for style, atmosphere and hospitality. His unique blend of visionary inspiration, attention to detail and sense of unlimited possibility informs all he touches— as evidenced in Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The Violet Hour, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats and Nico Osteria. His gift for connecting talented individuals and business acumen was recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2015, when he was awarded Outstanding Restaurateur.
A consummate family man, Madia carries on the tradition of warmth and hospitality learned from his mother, Clara, and her twin sister Rita. Their deeply instilled sense of values imparted a dedication to charitable involvement, most notably his commitment to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for pediatric cancer research.
For his first project, Blackbird, Madia forged a partnership with Executive Chef Paul Kahan that would ultimately lead to some of Chicago's most ground-breaking and memorable dining establishments.
Another masterful stroke was the appointment of architect and interior designer Thomas Schlesser, with whom Madia formed a long-lasting creative partnership and diverse collection of award-winning spaces.
At Blackbird, Madia set out to challenge the old-guard formality of fine dining, while crafting a world-class restaurant experience. Madia’s vision effectively impacted the international culinary and design communities, earning him a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics in 2001.
Madia and Kahan again partnered on avec, successfully pioneering communal dining, all while offering unparalleled ambiance and service. Madia's creative team, Schlesser and graphic designer Jason Pickleman, drew international acclaim for their work—earning the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design, and a nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics in 2005.
Breaking into yet another category, Madia partnered with restaurateurs Terry Alexander and Peter Garfield, as well as mixology masters Jason Cott and Toby Maloney, to redefine the bar experience. From its onset, The Violet Hour received widespread attention, and was deemed the most important bar opening of 2007 by Food & Wine magazine. A cavalcade of international press followed, including praise from The New York Times’ William Grimes as one of the best speakeasies in the nation for its handcrafted cocktails and “Prohibition vibe,” culminating in consecutive James Beard Award nominations for Outstanding Bar Program in 2012 and 2013.
Madia’s next foray into hospitality was on a far grander scale, with The Publican— a modern interpretation of a late-1800s beer hall, with nods to the Belgian pub and French brasserie. The restaurant's distinctive character and flawless execution led The New York Times’ Frank Bruni to honor the “outstanding newcomer” with a glowing review; all culminating in Madia’s James Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics in 2009.
Big Star, the approachable honky-tonk whiskey bar and taqueria reminiscent of the 30’s and 40’s Bakersfield scene, was the next restaurant to receive Donnie Madia’s finesse and business acumen. From its opening in 2009, Big Star amassed a strong legion of admirers drawn to the raucous, music-filled bar.
Publican Quality Meats is unique in its range. An artisanal butcher shop at its core, Publican Quality Meats is a neighborhood café, bakery and retail space by day, as well as the private dining room for The Publican by night. Madia’s knack for orchestrating successful business ventures, with great care for the details, again proved valuable.
One Off Hospitality Group formed in 2011, as a natural progression to the existing family of restaurants, and carries the same spirit of hospitality imbued from Madia’s mother. As the term “One Off” implies, each project is unique and may be the group’s last; which is why each project is handled with the utmost attention to detail and character.
Madia and his partners’ newest venture, Nico Osteria, brings Italian seafood-focused fare to Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Donnie Madia’s elegance and attention to detail extend beyond the realm of business, and into his identity. His life essentials, as encapsulated by GQ, “revolve around style […] and experiences, much like the ones he creates every evening for his diners.” At his core, Madia is a family man— dividing his time between his extensive One Off family, his beautiful wife Estelle and their son Bronson.
Madia’s credo: Lead by example— never ask others to perform a task he wouldn’t carry out himself.