Jimmy Bannos has grown up in the restaurant business, helping his parents in their various ventures in Chicago. In 1985, the Bannos family transformed their neighborhood coffee shop in the jewelry district of Chicago’s Loop into Heaven on Seven, following Jimmy Bannos’ experimentation with Creole cooking and extensive travel and study in New Orleans. Today, 26 years later, the restaurant still stands as one of Chicago’s premier Cajun eateries. Bannos was inducted in to the Chicago Chef’s Hall of Fame in 2007. His newest restaurant The Purple Pig, where his son Jimmy Bannos Jr. serves as executive chef, was named one of the ten best new restaurants for 2010 by Bon Appetit, and has won multiple other accolades for its food and wine selection.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
Jimmy Bannos: I've been in the restaurant business for over 40 years and I can't wait to go to work every day.
FE&S: Would you encourage your children to work in this business?
Jimmy Bannos: My son Jimmy is my partner and executive chef at The Purple Pig. He is a fourth generation chef. My daughter works at the original Heaven on Seven along with my wife Annamarie and my nephew, Anthony Schittino. My other nephew, Andrew Bannos, is the manager at my Naperville, Ill., Heaven on Seven. My niece, Patrice Schittino, is a host at Heaven on Seven on Rush.
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
Jimmy Bannos: My father was my mentor. I got to work side by side with my father from ages of nine and 20 at a little diner we had. He and I worked together for another 17 years at Heaven on Seven. I used to go fishing a lot with my dad. Nowadays, I'm good for about an hour, maybe two, but after that, I can't sit still. Also, Paul Prudhomme is a mentor. I'm still in touch with Paul and just talking to him is an inspiration.
FE&S: How about when it comes to cooking? Which family member influenced you the most?
Jimmy Bannos: Both my grandmothers and definitely my mother. They were all unbelievable cooks.
FE&S: Who in the foodservice industry do you admire most?
Jimmy Bannos: I admire all the partners I'm involved with because we are all on the same page and respect each other.
FE&S: When traveling for business, what is one of your favorite pastimes?
Jimmy Bannos: When I travel I love to check out all the restaurants in the city. Growing up, we would drive to Florida each year and we would go to see family in Biloxi, Miss. That was always a feast — fried catfish, crabs — any seafood in Biloxi was awesome.
FE&S: Knowing what you now know, would you still pursue a career in foodservice?
Jimmy Bannos: I wouldn't think of doing anything else in my life besides working in the restaurant business.
FE&S: What career advice do you have for aspiring chefs and other professionals of the foodservice industry?
Jimmy Bannos: Don't ever lose the passion. Keep on reading and traveling, and don't be afraid of hard work and long hours. That's the business.
FE&S: When you were young what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jimmy Bannos: The same thing as now — a chef and to own my own restaurant.