They’ll be exploring new levels of celebrity involvement this week when Harry Caray’s Tavern at Navy Pier opens in Chicago. Caray, the late Chicago Cubs announcer, is the restaurant’s namesake, but it’s the collective fame of 12 celebrity investors that’s expected to lure patrons to this 300-seat restaurant. Can this sort of second-hand star power really create sufficient buzz and, if so, could it do the same for you?
Harry Caray might be gone, but the restaurant group that bears his name is still going strong. It operates the original Harry’s Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in downtown Chicago, plus units in suburban Rosemont and Lombard. There’s also a seafood concept, Holy Mackerel!, the more casual Harry Caray’s Tavern in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, the Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field and Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch in Midway Airport. Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group president Grant DePorter has shown admirable skills in leveraging the Harry Caray name into successful restaurant operations that span a range of concepts throughout the city.
The group budgeted $4.5 million to open Harry Caray’s Tavern on tourist magnet Navy Pier, rounding up 30 investors to help foot the bill. Roughly a dozen of them qualify as Chicago-area celebrities. Granted their star power would be low wattage anyplace else. But for this restaurant, in this town, they’re a big deal.
Why so many? “If one celebrity is good, probably 10 is better,” DePorter told the Chicago Tribune. “We will have museum displays dedicated to each one of them, and a number will be in the restaurant, hopefully quite often, so customers will get to see them.”
Which explains why one such investor, James Denton, the hunky neighborhood plumber from Desperate Housewives, will be serving tables from time to time. It won’t be much of a leap for him, since he worked as a waiter at the original Harry Caray’s when he first started out.
Other investors include a few who have a national profile, including Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks; actor/director director Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Ghostbusters); and actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage). There are also a couple of Chicago Blackhawk hockey stars from the past (Bobby Hull) and the present (Patrick Kane). Also on board are locals with football ties (Chicago Bear Richard Dent; ex-Buffalo Bills coach and area native Marv Levy); a number of ex-Chicago Cubs players including Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg; and Caray’s widow, Dutchie.
The centerpiece of the restaurant will be Harry’s Museum. This repository of Chicago sports history and memorabilia will include such prized local relics as Marv Levy’s Super Bowl XXV jacket, Gabby Hartnett’s social security card and Ron Santo’s 1973 All-Star game ring. Plus, of course, Harry Caray’s signature eyeglasses.
The food and drink will be several notches above that of a typical sports bar, thanks to the Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group’s expertise. But the place will still look like a sports bar, thanks to 30 flat panel TV screens scattered around the dining area.
Given the Navy Pier location—it’s the No. 1 tourist destination in Illinois, drawing between eight and 10 million visitors a year—this venture seems like a gold mine waiting to happen.