Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café - Darien and Burbank, IL

Owner: Chuck Pine, owner and executive chef
Years in Business: since 1998
Number of employees: 220
“If you haven’t been to Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café, you’re missing out on one of Chicago’s most inspired blend of Mexican, Cajun-Creole, good old southern cookin’, and the best S-L-O-W cooked, smoked barbecue you’ve ever had!”

About Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café:

Opened in 1998, Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café is a family-owned and operated restaurant, which serves a blend of Mexican, Cajun-Creole, good old southern cookin’, and slow-cooked, smoked barbecue. The restaurant started out as a small place (36 seats originally) and quickly outgrew its space due to a variety of marketing activities and good media press. Chuck’s now operates two full-service restaurants in south Chicago, including one restaurant and banquet facility.

Career before this business:

Chuck started in the video rental business, which slowly went away. After that, he went to chef school and worked for the famous chef, Rick Bayless, for two years.

Why start this business:

Chuck grew up in the city of Chicago and enjoyed eating barbecue with his dad at Leon's Barbecue (east side of Chicago). He tasted and tested different barbecue places and recipes while working for Rick and decided to start his own restaurant.

Biggest challenges:

The overall labor cost of a large employee base as well as keeping up with the changing trends and regulations in the restaurant business.

Most rewarding:

Being a chef is a rewarding job. Chuck enjoys receiving appreciation and praise from his customers for the great food he makes. He also speaks at high school career days to share his stories and passion. Chuck’s has been featured on numerous national and local television shows, from Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to local favorites like Windy City Live, 190 North, Check Please, and Chicago’s Best.

Successful marketing promotion to attract new customers:

Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café markets through a variety of channels, including:

  • TV shows (i.e. Drive-Ins and Dives:
  • Mailing list
  • Gift cards/loyalty programs
  • Daily specials
  • Social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
  • Restaurant app
  • Events (i.e. Cinco De Mayo Buffet, Team Trivia Tuesday)
  • Third party review websites: TripAdvisor, Zomato, Grubhub, Yelp, Opentable, Groupon, etc.

Having fun with social:

A recent example is Chuck’s Perfect Rib Night, which features slow-smoked, fresh barbecue in homemade sauce, served at 7 p.m., by pre-order only. Chuck’s created a video and ran a Facebook campaign. The video has received over 7,000 views. The event can sell a few hundred slabs of ribs on one night at one location.

What differentiates Chuck’s:

Chuck’s prides itself on its unique dishes along with providing a great customer experience. Although there are several other barbecue restaurants in town, Chuck’s competes by offering authentic southern fare with homemade sauces, original spice rubs, and organic homegrown vegetables.

Chuck’s stays ahead of the curve on food and technology trends. Chuck’s is working on several projects, including online ordering and self-order kiosks at a new location. Chuck’s is also looking at introducing pay at the table and order ahead in the future.

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