Mark Levy

Mark&Sarah-0213_WEB

“You have to start with great food.”

Mark Levy is a restaurant guru, food pioneer, CEO of Mastro’s Steakhouse and my dad —  the world’s best dad. His career began in insurance, while he pursued his food passion on the side as an investor in D.B. Kaplan’s restaurant. Eventually, he and his brother Larry began operating the restaurant – a family venture where my mom bartended and handled bookkeeping. Grandma Eadie even moved from St. Louis to add some tasty TLC. Little did they know at the time, a restaurant group had been born.

While at the helm of Levy Restaurants, my dad pioneered the idea of introducing high-end food into sky suites at stadiums – a national trend that thrives today. In 1998, dad sold his half of Levy Restaurants to move to the West Coast but couldn’t resist the itch to get back into the biz. Fast-forward to today and you can find him, at 66 years old, at one of 10 Mastro’s Steakhouses sipping Don Julio Blanco (straight up, shaken with lots of fresh lime) and keenly watching everything.

With so many Chicago steakhouses, what makes Mastro’s stand apart?
The total experience, from the service to the food and environment, including live music seven nights a week.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part of what you do?
Watching peoples’ reaction to their experience at Mastro’s is my favorite. Least favorite is the personnel issues.

One trend you wish would die?
Managers coming to a table and saying, ‘Everything great?’ and not giving you a chance to answer honestly.

What’s the next big thing in dining?
Making a complete night’s experience in one location. At Mastro’s, you can come to the bar for cocktails and sushi with friends after work or you can have dinner and dance to the live music afterward.

The restaurant business is brutal. What should people know before getting into it?
It’s seven days a week, and you get a scorecard every day as to how you’re doing. You can’t recover your operating errors – the money’s gone. You scheduled too much labor? You didn’t watch food costs? You schnooze you lose. You know what I’m saying! The inning is in the books.

Finish these sentences, dad:

There’s never enough time…to finish everything.

At work, my biggest pet peeve is…pouring one old glass of wine into a new glass.

The love of my life is…my kids and grandkids.

If I could change one thing about myself it would be…to be younger and get more years in the restaurant business.

The secret to perfect happiness is…being fair-minded and relaxed about life’s many ups and downs.

My most commonly used phrase is…you have to start with great food.

My favorite travel destination…Cabo San Lucas. It feels like home to me.

My ideal way to die is…in my sleep.

And my biggest fear is…at my age, I don’t have any fears.

Greatest accomplishment is…building a nationally recognized restaurant company, Levy Restaurants.

In my next life I’ll be…in the music business, like my dad.

And my favorite child is…nice try, Sarah!

My dad has taught me so much about being an entrepreneur and the ins and outs of the restaurant business. I’m just excited to see what he’ll do next!

Sarah Levy

About Sarah Levy Imberman

Sarah Levy delighted millions as the owner and proprietor of Sarah's Pastries & Candies, one of Chicago's most popular confectionaries since its opening in 2004. A graduate of Northwestern University and the French Pastry School, Ms. Levy is the author of Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion and the winner of the Food Network Challenge. She’s been featured in USA TodayBetter Homes and Gardens and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Ms. Levy's now doing business as S. Levy Foods, and is a leader in the airport food concession business.