Over his 25-year career, Managing Partner Terry Alexander has become a leading force in Chicago’s hospitality community. A visionary thinker, Alexander has pioneered concepts as well as neighborhood development, seamlessly balancing risk with an uncanny knack for setting trends.
A Nebraska native, Alexander finished his graduate studies at Northwestern University and chose to remain in Chicago, having found his home. In 1989, he and partner Michael Noone opened their first venture, Danny’s Tavern, in the Bucktown neighborhood – an area that has since grown to be one of the city’s most sought-after destinations. Still thriving, Danny’s has become an iconic tavern, drawing both long-time fans and those new to this unique bar. In 1991, Alexander and Noone joined forces with local chef Scott Harris to create their take on an Italian trattoria, Mia Francesca. An instant – and wild – success, Mia Francesca has expanded to over 20 locations in Illinois, with additional outposts in California, Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Next up was Modern Southern cuisine when Alexander and partners took over Soul Kitchen, a very small restaurant with a very strong fan base, moving it and broadening the concept, thereby developing it into one of Wicker Park’s hottest restaurants.
Wanting to push boundaries, in 1997 Alexander then opened okno, featuring global cuisine and the first of its kind to place an equal emphasis on food, design, and nightlife. He actively sought out emerging talents in the fields of architecture and design, and featured some of the city’s most important DJs nightly, making okno a unique experience. At okno, Alexander met designer Suhail, and the two worked closely on his next project, Tizi Melloul (1999). Offering Moroccan-influenced design and French-Moroccan cuisine, Tizi Melloul was Alexander’s first foray downtown and a critical and consumer success.
Back in Wicker Park, MOD. opened the following year, featuring modern American cuisine in a visually stunning setting, again designed by Suhail. Continuing his streak of spotting emerging talent, opening chef Kelly Courtney was selected by Food & Wine as one of the “Best New Chefs in America” in 2001. In 2003, Alexander, local restaurateur Donnie Madia and musical mastermind Joe Bryl opened the innovative Sonotheque, a “library of sound” promoting local and international DJs; during this time period, Alexander continued to open additional Mia Francescas. Looking to again change things up, in 2005 Alexander and partners reconcepted MOD. into del Toro, a modern Spanish restaurant; in 2007, they transformed that concept into the city’s first sophisticated cocktail lounge, The Violet Hour. Alexander first discussed his idea with Jason Cott and former Soul Kitchen bartender Toby Maloney and partnered with the two New York based owners of Alchemy Consulting, along with Madia and former Sonotheque Manger Peter Garfield to develop the concept, one that put cocktails front and center, in advance of this now ubiquitous trend. The Violet Hour was an instant classic, and has been nominated by the esteemed James Beard Foundation for an “Outstanding Bar Program” award in both 2012 and 2013, the only two years the award has been offered.
Continuing to develop concepts with Madia along with Blackbird and avec chef/partner Paul Kahan and partner Eduard Seitan, in 2008 the four developed The Publican, a modern day European beer hall/ gastropub. Serving a menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare with esoteric beers sourced globally, The Publican is another example of Alexander and partners setting the trends. The following year, the team took over a space Alexander long had his eye on, and they opened Big Star, their vision of a honky tonk – tacos, whiskey, country music from a record player – and resulted in what can only be described as a crushing success. To accommodate the ever-present throng, Big Star has expanded three times, and continues to draw crowds on a daily basis. As The Publican also outgrew capacity, the team began plans for a commissary kitchen to handle the demand for Kahan’s food; this idea evolved into Publican Quality Meats (2012), a contemporary American butcher shop/market/restaurant. Also in 2012, Alexander and his partners began work on their biggest project to date, Nico Osteria, which will bring Italian seafood to the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Alexander and his wife, Kristin –who he first poured a pint of Guinness for at Danny’s in 1991—and daughter Audrey Margaux live in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.