By: Dana Ragazinskas
One of the members from It’s a Local Thing (Dana), sat down with the Chicago native and 44-year-old restaurant owner, Ky Novak. Ky is the owner of The Fireplace Inn, located in Chicago’s historic Old Town neighborhood. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, Old Town is located on the north side of Chicago. The Fireplace Inn resides on the main strip of Old Town, which is located on Wells Street. Whether you’re looking to dine casually or go a little fancy, The Fireplace Inn has found an innovative approach to improve your dining experience by providing you with a choice. Choosing from upscale to casual, is simply a matter of walking through one glass door. Which ever you choose, this is your place to go!
Ky is an extremely hard working individual, who lives and breathes the restaurant business. He’s not afraid to get in there and get his hands dirty, always in the middle of the action, even cooking and grilling himself at The Taste of Chicago. He was born into the restaurant business,and is finishing what his father had started. Ky continues to upgrade and enhance The Fireplace Inn, by putting his own personal twist on the restaurant while holding onto his father’s original idea.
It’s a Local Thing could not pass up the opportunity to talk to this dedicated business owner of such an innovative restaurant. We were curious as to what goes into owning a place like this and what makes it stand out above all of the rest. Dana was able to chat with Ky and get some of the insider details we were all dying to find out. This is what the man in charge had to say:
Dana Ragazinskas: If you can describe The Fireplace Inn in one word, what would it be?
Ky Novak: “Cheers”. It’s very similar to the 80s sitcom Cheers, where locals come to eat, drink, relax, and have fun.
DR: What is your favorite characteristic of The Fireplace Inn?
KN: The people! They make us who we are.
DR: How would you describe the area/neighborhood The Fireplace Inn is located?
KN: The best Chicago has to offer. The area is very diverse, friendly, and full of life. It’s a great location, and I’m extremely happy with it.
DR: How would you describe the crowd here?
KN: Since we have two different types of atmospheres here (casual and “slightly fancy”) we attract a large variety of people. We have everybody here; young, old, college students, families, all races and ethnicities. It’s great.
DR: How is The Fireplace Inn different from any other bar & grill in Chicago? What makes it stand out?
KN: The Fireplace Inn isn’t run like a corporation. Being the owner, I’m very hands on, always there and always interacting with the customers. I like to take part in everything that goes on, getting my hands dirty, and not just siting somewhere in the background. I think the more of my personality and time I put into it, the more we stand out.
DR: Your family took over The Fireplace Inn in 1969. How would you say it has changed since then?
KN: We went from fine dining to more of a pub-style dining experience. You still get that high quality feeling, but with a casual undertone. We really wanted to incorporate sports, and allow our guests to come in, feel comfortable, watch the game, yet still feel that twist of elegance.
DR: What is it like to run a business with your siblings?
KN: We are very lucky. We work really well together as a family so I can’t complain.
DR: Was it always named The Fireplace Inn?
KN: Yeah, we carried over the name when we took over ownership. My uncle worked at The Fireplace Inn as a manager before the owners offered him the opportunity to buy it from them. My uncle, Jim, and my father, Dick, were both very passionate about food and barbecue, so they jumped on the opportunity to own their own restaurant. They wanted to make the The Fireplace their own, yet hold on to tradition with its name.
DR: What went into the design of this place?
KN: History. We took its original “look”, and continued to modernize as we went along. I wanted to keep the original elegant look, but tone it down, giving it more of a sports bar look, yet still giving you that feeling of being in a nice bar or restaurant. The main addition was the Sport Bar Patio, which was built after we purchased the land next door. This brought the pub-style bar that is adjoined to our fine dining experience in the original building.
DR: Can you tell me about the two different areas of The Fireplace Inn?
KN: Well, our main restaurant/bar and the sports bar are almost completely separate, yet connected by a glass door. Our customers have the choice to sit in either of the two areas, depending on what they’re in the mood for. Our main restaurant/bar is more elegant with dim lighting, fancy chandeliers, a fireplace, deeper colors, and fewer TVs. The Sports Bar Patio has tons of televisions, brighter lighting, a gives you a feeling of being outdoors. The Sports Bar also has a retractable ceiling that we open up for the summer, really adding to the casual/outdoors feeling. I think that’s what makes us stand out above the others as well; bringing the best of both worlds of fancy and casual, and then you take your pick.
DR: How would you describe the staff here?
KN: Committed. We work hard, and we work hard together. We’re all on the same page, so everything runs smoothly and effectively. I couldn’t ask for a better team.
DR: So I hear that you guys are known for having the best barbecue in the city since 1969. What makes it stand out above other restaurants serving barbecue?
KN: The sauce. It’s tangy with a hint of spice. That’s all I can say without giving too much away.
DR: In regard to the menu, what would you recommend to someone who has never been to The Fireplace Inn?
KN: We are known for our barbecue as being the best in the city, as you’ve mentioned, but what we are also known for is having fantastic ribs. So, I would recommend getting a slab of ribs, along with our freshly made 32oz vodka and lemonade, which is another one of our trademarks.
DR: So you’re well known for your barbecued meat dishes, have you recently added vegetarian dishes to the menu?
KN: We sure did.
DR: What are some of the dishes?
KN: We’ve added veggie burgers, veggie pizza, and tomato basil pasta. We also have other foods that a vegetarian may be interested in such as cheese sticks, fries, onion rings, guacamole & chips, and different soups & salads.
DR: What are some of the specials that are worth making a note of?
KN: Monday through Friday we have ½ off all appetizers from 5pm-7pm. Thursdays we have ½ off our 32oz and 44oz Skyy Vodka Lemonades. We have other daily specials listed on our website(linked) as well.
DR: The Fireplace Inn has participated in many Chicago events such as The Taste of Chicago, Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago Art Fair, Lollapalooza, and the list goes on. What do you like the most about participating in such festivals?
KN: I enjoy being out there because it’s a change, something new and exciting. It’s a lot of work though.
DR: Do you have any special events coming up in the near future that are worth mentioning?
KN: Just around the corner, on June 11th-12th is the Wells Street Art Festival, so come see us there. I recommend attending, not just because we’ll be there, but because it’s great to see all the Chicago artists out there selling their work and it’s a lot of fun.
DR: What is the hardest part about running and managing a restaurant business?
KN: It’s very demanding, but it’s in my blood so it’s easy for me. It’s all I’ve ever known so I cannot see myself doing anything else.
DR: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to own a restaurant of their own?
KN: Don’t do it unless you’re willing to live that lifestyle. It’s not easy, so you have to have the drive and commitment. If you don’t have the passion for it, it will show in your work and in your business, taking away from you’re success.
DR: Anything else you would like to mention?
KN: I’m happy to say, we’ve just finished all of our renovations, which is a relief. We’re also adding new bathrooms in the spring! It’s a perfect time to come in and check it out, whether you’ve been here before or not, because everything is brand new.
After enjoying a tall glass of Skyy Vodka and Lemonade, Dana from It’s a Local Thing, wrapped up the interview with Ky after touring the newly renovated restaurant and bars, even allowing her to see the kitchen. The Fireplace Inn is truly one in a million, offering fantastic food, great drinks, and a good crowd. Not to mention the owner, Ky Novak, being a great business man and nice person. Ky is always running around The Fireplace Inn, so if you get the chance, chat with him a bit, he likes hearing from the people who have made his business what it is today, meaning you guys.
Location: 1448 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610-1306
For more information, check out The Fireplace Inn official website.