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The Sam Vlahos Approach To Neighborhood Restaurants


By Larry Atseff

When talking with Phil Vettel about his experience as a restaurant critic, we chose Sam Vlahos’ Pierce Tavern in downtown Downers Grove to sit down and talk. Sam joined us and we got some perspective from him about running a successful restaurant, as an owner of three different neighborhood operations. Restaurants have been in his family for years. He developed a winning formula in Hinsdale with Fuller House which he opened in 2015 with his sister and business partner Patricia Brown. “As Phil says, when you are running a neighborhood restaurant, you better know your neighborhood. When I opened Fuller House, that meant a place that would attract families as well as a young adult crowd. I wanted to keep the name of the hardware store that had been in the space. That way, everyone knew where it was. I call the atmosphere casual rustic. We feature wood-fired pizza, craft beer, and sports on tv. Besides pizza, we offer other comfort food that is absolutely delicious at a reasonable price. You can sit at the bar and order happy hour drinks and food and enjoy the game. We have a large area for outdoor seating that has attracted a good crowd when the weather is right. “About a year ago, I decided to look for another place where I could duplicate the formula, but it didn’t have to have the same look as Fuller’s. In my backyard of Downers Grove, I heard that Pierce Tavern was coming available.

The interior has that “rustic look”, it had a bar, and when some nearby space became available, I added the addition and opened it. Just like Fuller’s, the menu features comfort food for the whole family and some specialties like the Grilled Cheese Brisket you had for lunch. Other specialties that are doing well include Buffalo Shrimp and West Coast Burger. I like to hold on to the memory of a place, and just like Fuller’s, I decided to give a nod to the fact that at one time the space was the original Downers Grove Library.We have dedicated a whole wall with library books that are opened up with the spines attached to the wall and the pages open to everyone in the restaurant.” “As it happens, I just now opened Bar Chido, right next door. Chido is Mexican for ‘cool fun’. I call it a modern take on Mexican street food. We serve Chido hot chips, we use authentic ingredients like Oaxaca and Cotija cheese, and offer a variety of handheld ‘legit’ tacos. We also offer large plates of carnitas and fajitas. At the bar, we have several Mexican beers and wines, and we make just about every Mexican tequila cocktail you can imagine.” While the theme behind each is a little different, the approach is the same: give diners what they like to eat and drink and prepare it so it will be delicious every time. We add a couple of new items that they think they will also enjoy. The atmosphere is totally relaxed, and the service is fast. It is working and we’re enjoying a nice following at all three locations. ■

*Photo by Marcello Rodarte