Family is at the heart of everything at Monnie Burke’s. Owned and operated by husband and wife duo Margi and Anan Abu-Taleb, everyone in the family has had a hand in what they serve.
Even the name is an ode to a beloved aunt who had the very special ability to make all feel welcome.
Modern American eats and inventive craft cocktails adorn the menu, all of which can be enjoyed in a stylish space with one of the largest outdoor patios in the area.
A dream years in the making, Anan began his work in the restaurant industry as a busboy at age 19 and never looked back. He and Margi have owned several restaurants over the past 30 years, including Pizza Capri in Lincoln Park and Hyde Park, Vivaldi and Maya Del Sol in Oak Park, and most recently Monnie Burke’s.
The couple raised four children in Oak Park, and each has worked at the restaurants. Their son John is the general manager at Monnie Burke’s, a place where the Abu-Taleb’s strtive to have everyone feel like family.
Scio at the Medical District recently had the unique opportunity to learn more about the restaurant, the owners, and everything that makes Monnie Burke’s what it is.
Scio: What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered and how did you overcome it?
Margi Abu-Taleb: The biggest challenge in any business is being able to keep your concept relevant and exciting for diners. We currently have two restaurants that are pick-up and delivery-based concepts — Pizza Capri in Lincoln Park and Pizza Capri in Hyde Park — and two restaurants that are sit down restaurants — Maya Del Sol and Monnie Burke’s.
These are very different business models, and both have changed fairly significantly in the last 5-7 years. In general the restaurant business has become much more competitive since we opened our first location 31 years ago.
For the delivery concepts, we have adjusted the model to incorporate third party companies like Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door Dash. These companies have captured the marketplace by making it easy for the customer to order and expanding our reach for customers.
The sit-down restaurant dining experience has changed as well. We are in the age where foodies and social media play a big part in consumer connection. Being able to keep the food, drinks and dining experience relevant requires innovation. Chef-driven concepts and the rise of mixology have ushered in a whole new era of competition in the industry. We are constantly being reviewed and evaluated through Yelp, Open Table, Google etc., and customers can find a place with great reviews and recommendations with the click of a button. This requires vigilance, not only with staying on top of reviews, but also making sure that staff receives proper training so that we can ensure a positive experience for every guest.
Scio: What do you most enjoy about what you do at Monnie Burke’s?
Abu-Taleb: Opening a restaurant is a creative endeavor. It is the sum of various fields of expertise that work with the owners’ direction to create a complete concept. It’s enjoyable to have a hand in so many different aspects of the creative process — the design and architecture of the space, branding, website development, social media integration and creation of the menu, just to name a few. All of these require vision and direction to create the final product, and it’s very exciting to see that culminate in the opening of the restaurant.
I also find being on the floor when the restaurant is busy to be great fun. Although each employee has his or her own tasks to do, there is a great amount of connection amongst the staff and guests that makes the evening run smoothly and creates a positive energy in the building.
Scio: Who inspires you and why?
Abu-Taleb: We are inspired by restauranteurs, designers and architects who understand that dining is an experience. The food, space and service all play a part in the experience. Being able to deliver on all of these is quite an accomplishment. This requires an understanding of how to create a mood, deliver great service and produce excellent food. This ambiance is reflected through the flow of the space, lighting, music, colors and textures. The service is reflected by hiring good staff and solid training. To produce a memorable meal you have to find a talented chef that shares your vision and can consistently deliver an innovative and cravable product.
Scio: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about running a business?
Abu-Taleb: The people that work for you are the most important part of a business. We have been fortunate to have so many honest, respectful and hardworking employees over the many years that we have owned our businesses.
Scio: Can you describe a moment or moments when you stopped and realized this is why you are doing what you’re doing with your life?
Abu-Taleb: There have been many times, but a good number are related to seeing an employee mature and progress within the company. We have also been fortunate to have developed many wonderful relationships with our customers over the years.
Scio: What advice would you offer to other small business owners?
Abu-Taleb: They key to success is having good business partners, responsible and honest employees, the right location and a solid concept that you believe in.
Scio at the Medical District: Welcome Home
At Scio, we live smarter. We value the neighborhood we call home, and sincerely enjoy finding new ways to support local businesses like Monnie Burke’s however possible.
For more information, or to schedule a tour, call (312) 427-1855 or visit us online.