“We’re a young company (13 places in under 4 years). I credit that to having good partners that are very dynamic. We found our strengths that compliment each other.” admits Carmen Rossi, founder of 8 Hospitality Group.

Were you always in the restaurant business?

“I’m an attorney by trade so I didn’t go through the traditional culinary background. I have a very diverse background though and I wanted to take a chance in the hospitality market. There are elements in every job I’ve worked that has cultivated my presence.” says Rossi “It makes sense that I don’t have a background in hospitality management or culinary arts. I don’t have anything preset in my mind; instead I’m responding to the neighborhood. This company isn’t about me, it’s about the person walking in the door.”

So how does Rossi decide on a concept?

“There’s a natural relationship between community, gov’t, and business. It’s not necessarily an academic belief or philosophy that has driven that thought, but getting involved in the community is where the concept starts. When we buy a building, it’s not with a concept in mind. Once we’ve secured a building in a community that we want to develop, we talk to the neighbors and ask them what they want. I want to see architecture that plays a role in developing the concept. I’m in a number of different wards. It’s a wide range of demographics and genres of food and concepts. It’s a balanced portfolio as opposed to 13 Portillo’s.”

“Hospitality has served as a vehicle/agent to participate and actively engage in our community. Developing a concept in a neighborhood is one thing that we do, but taking it to the next level and participating in civic and social issues within that community is the larger picture.” – Rossi

“I can’t think of a more impactful industry. We drive pleasure from our day to day work for our customers. Meals, today, aren’t about substance. They’re about a first date, a celebration, an experience and ultimately a memory.”

“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this city; I love Chicago. I don’t think I could have done this in any other city. It’s big enough to find success in a number of different neighborhoods.” – Rossi

Cultivating My Presence

“It’s not about passion, it’s about a philosophy that has been ingrained in me. It’s not only value (as a means to success), I think it’s a civic responsibility. This city has a very tight network and it’s hard to break into that. I found that the best way to do it is to get involved in any capacity possible. I attended local meetings and local campaigns. I attested that I wanted to help and not just as a cliche but I genuinely love it. I kept coming around and Rahm Emanuel appointed me as a commissioner on landmarks. There are 10,000 landmarks in the city of Chicago. I made a relationship at the state level because I’m a fan. At a time when people are bashing Illinois and overlooking the beauties of Chicago, I think now is the time for us as a proud citizenry to shine. Governor Rauner put me on the board for the IL Economic Development. The design is to bring jobs to the state. I’m also a board member for the IL Restaurant Association and a board member for the Chicago Chamber of Commerce (PAC).”

Looking at this table full of food and talking about waste and feeding the hungry, what are your thoughts?

“The Chicago Hospitality industry has elevated. The Beard Awards are here and over 50 Michelin Star Restaurants. You have a lot of groups that are elevating the experiential side of dining, and speaking as their peer forced me to stay current with it. But at no other time in recent history has hospitality had so many roles. Dining is an experience and with that it’s now become a larger part of the conversation in our communities. Therefore, there’s a larger responsibility to bring forward issues that are churning in our community. If I can create an experience where hospitality plays a larger role in your life because I’m part of the conversation, then I’m at least acknowledging a civic responsibility towards a greater good. Recycling, waste, charity, etc.”

But it’s not enough to just acknowledge that there’s a growing issue, you have to actually work towards the betterment of your community.

“I started a division in our company called Chicago Knight Life; we’re the knights. I work with 5 charity organizations in the city and I invite my staff to volunteer to deliver food and serve food. Our signup sheets are always full and that’s a testament for the people we’ve recruited to work for this company. I am committed to giving as much back to the community as it has given me. We are constantly exploring new ways to help other organizations.

We’re experimenting with a recycling project at Barn and Company. We’re pushing draft beer instead of bottled and canned beer. We’re talking about saving millions of bottles and cans for the city of Chicago. At this stage it’s about awareness. I’m an owner and operator of 13 locations and even I wasn’t aware of the accumulation of waste with bottles and cans. It’s all about conversation.”

Could this be something that extends into the political scene?

“Lets drink more beer is my motto but let’s do it consciously.” chuckles Rossi

I like the way you think Mr. Rossi. Grow your brand by giving the community what they need and then give back to the community with the profits from your efforts. I would personally love to see a waste management system in place for restaurants, that prohibits them from wasting edible/non-perishable food and makes it mandatory for them to donate these items to the food pantries and/or homeless shelters. And I’ve been saying for years that bottled and canned beer and soda needs to be banned in the states that don’t offer recycling centers. Yes, we all waste and we’re all conscious about it. So let’s work towards the betterment of our planet and save ourselves from ourselves. Rossi is open to suggestions and ideas to help his efforts and invites Chicago residents to share your solutions in order for new processes and systems to be set in motion. And if you’re having a creative block, an ice cold draft beer from any one of Rossi’s 13 restaurants, is the perfect solution to get the creative juices flowing.