Oprah's Chef Art Smith Partners with Mayor Niles, a Restaurateur, for Navy Pier Restaurant

Niles Mayor George Alpogianis, a restaurateur and Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef whose specialties have been enjoyed by celebrities from Lady Gaga to British royalty, is bringing some star power to Navy Pier in the form of a Southern-themed restaurant called Chef Art Smith’s. Meeting.

Alpogianis and celebrity chef Art Smith share ownership of the business with Alpogianis’ brother, Manolis Alpogianis, and a fourth investor, Smith said.

It’s the seventh restaurant for Smith, who runs a charity and a string of other restaurants across the country, and the sixth restaurant in the Alpogianis brothers’ culinary portfolio.

In Chicago, Smith owns Kitchen and garden with blue doorformerly known as Table Fifty-Two, where the former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama enjoyed their 2009 Valentine’s dinner. Smith also owns Chicago Q, a barbecue-oriented restaurant.

Reunion, which serves the southern fare for which Smith is well known, opened its doors on July 18.

According to Alpogianis’ recollections, Reunion began as a conversation between the Alpogianis brothers and Smith at the latter’s outpost at Disney Springs, Florida, Homecomin’. The brothers are fried chicken enthusiasts and drove from Tampa Bay, where they were attending an airport conference, to Disney Springs to sample Smith’s version of the dish. Alpogianis said he has known Smith for years through Manolis, an old friend of Smith’s.

“My brother and I started talking a little bit about how good the fried chicken was (at Homecomin’),” Alpogianis said. “And my brother at that point and Art started chatting about doing something together.”

The food gene runs in the Alpogianis family, which has been in the restaurant business for generations, Smith noted. He added that when George Alpogianis, himself a trained chef, is at the restaurant, “he cooks, he kisses babies… he knows the restaurant business inside out and inside out.”

Smith said the idea of ​​opening at Navy Pier was appealing both from the standpoint of “bringing some of this fried chicken magic to Chicago” and the pier’s status as a tourist destination.

“Navy Pier is a destination for the Midwest and is considered the Disneyland of the Midwest,” said Smith. “It’s become very popular and has a lot of other types of eating establishments, but they said they’re really looking for good restaurants.”

Alpogianis predicted that the very dish that spawned the idea for the restaurant would be one of its main draws.

“[Smith] It absolutely has, without exception, the best fried chicken in the world, and there is no question about it,” Alpogianis said.

Smith, who said he just finished cooking for both the United Nations and the UK’s Princess Eugenie, said he sells more than 40 tons of fried chicken a year at Homecomin’, his Disney Springs restaurant.

“Every famous person in the world has eaten it,” Smith explained, referring to his fried chicken. “I mean, I met Lady Gaga eating fried chicken. Even the Obamas, even though they are very healthy, she loved it.”

While Reunion has only been open a few weeks, he said trade has been brisk so far.

Alpogianis and his brother own several other restaurants through their TAG Restaurants organization, including America’s Dog and Burger at Navy Pier, O’Hare Airport, and Evergreen Park; Carnelli’s Deli at Navy Pier and Green Market at O’Hare Airport. But the property where Alpogianis spends most of his time is Kappy’s Diner in Morton Grove.

When asked how he planned to balance adding another restaurant to his portfolio with his duties as CEO of the town of Niles, Alpogianis said he relies on his brother to help him fulfill both sets of responsibilities.

“My brother is very understanding of my schedule for the town,” Alpogianis said. “He knows I’m here at Kappy’s six days a week, at Village Hall every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.”

Alpogianis added that Reunion will have a general manager and chef de cuisine to oversee the kitchen when Smith is not in that restaurant. But Smith will spend the next few weeks on the pier, he said, to make sure things run smoothly as the first groups of diners pass by.

The meeting is located at Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Ave., #131, Chicago.

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