Inside Scott Harris Hospitality’s epic restaurant expansion 

Based in the bustling city of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, Scott Harris Hospitality (Scott Harris) is a rapidly growing restaurant group. With a portfolio of 20 restaurants, the company has established itself as a prominent player in the sector. Led by Scott Harris, the group’s founder, each restaurant within the group operates on the principles of simplicity, hospitality, and quality. From trattorias to wine bars, the company’s diverse range of establishments offers a variety of dining experiences to cater to different tastes. Through its passion for food and a commitment to creating perfect dining experiences, Scott Harris is headed towards further expansion. Jaysen Euler, COO, provides a brief overview of the business and his role within the group.

“Before becoming the owner and operator of Scott Harris, Scott was a chef with a wealth of experience in Italian cuisine. The company’s journey began in 1992, when Scott opened our first restaurant, Mia Francesca, in Wrigleyville, Chicago. Since then, Scott Harris has expanded substantially into a multitude of unique concepts. As the group’s COO, I work collaboratively with Scott to continue on that growth trajectory. Despite the importance of my responsibilities as COO, I remain a chef by trade and feel most comfortable when working in the kitchen. As a result, my role extends beyond its initial scope. Nonetheless, by growing in the industry, particularly within a group that was created by a chef, owner and operator, I believe Scott and I align closely on our operational approach and discernment of priorities,” he begins. 

Culinary concepts 

Over the past 32 years, Scott Harris has experienced significant growth, extending well beyond its initial establishment of Mia Francesca. “Though we previously owned a taco and tequila bar that was recently sold to an investment group, with Scott still maintaining partial ownership, Italian cuisine remains the backbone of our group. Our original restaurant, Mia Francesca, was a Roman Trattoria specializing in accessible Roman cuisine. Meanwhile, Davanti Enoteca offers a more rustic Italian wine bar experience, serving food inspired by small farm and fishing towns in Italy. More recently, we have introduced Vinny’s Clam Bar, a fun concept I like to call ‘East Coast Italian’ as it embodies the flavors of New York and New Jersey through an emphasis on seafood and red sauces. Vinny’s Clam Bar has already become famous for signature dishes such as wood fired oysters, clams, and mussels. Executive Chef, Pete Deruvo’s specialty Italian creations take center stage, elevating the dining experience to a whole new level, especially under the shimmering lights of the shrimp shaped disco ball. Alongside these Italian concepts, we expanded with Disotto in the northern suburbs and Vasilis Mediterranean. For Vasilis Mediterranean, I initially pitched the idea of Italian wood-fired cuisine to Scott. However, as both Scott and I married Greek partners, we developed a deep appreciation for Greek culture and cuisine. As a result, we decided to fuse Greek and Mediterranean influences with the Italian wood-fired concept. Vasilis Mediterranean has been a tremendous success, and we plan to further expand its presence. Personally, cooking over an open fire and adhering to ancient methods brings me immense joy and fulfilment, making Vasilis Mediterranean my favorite concept to date. Our main kitchen operates without gas lines, allowing us to fully embrace the challenge and excitement of this traditional cooking style. We enjoy this approach so much that we have implemented a small hearth at Vinny’s Clam Bar. Located near the oyster bar, the hearth enables us to prepare our famous grilled oysters and wood-fired prawns,” he reveals. 

Bowl of saladPopular portfolio 

Scott Harris underwent a rebranding in 2021, which Jaysen discusses in more detail. “Prior to the rebranding, we were known as Francesca’s Restaurant Group, named after our flagship restaurant, Mia Francesca. Over the course of our rebranding exercise, we realized that we are more than just Francesca’s. Therefore, we began marketing ourselves as Scott Harris Hospitality, in honor of our founder and chef, Scott. The new name truly reflects the diverse brands within Scott Harris, rather than solely focusing on Francesca’s. Still, we continue to invest significantly in Francesca’s, having recently remodeled the original location. Although it’s amazing to witness the love and grit ingrained in the walls after such a lengthy period, the original Francesca’s requires upkeep and a little more love and care. 

“I believe we did an excellent job with the remodeling process by incorporating some new elements whilst preserving the old, thus capturing the restaurant’s character without jeopardizing its integrity. Consequently, customers still experience the feeling of stepping into Mia Francesca, which is of utmost importance to them. Furthermore, we have introduced new additions to the menu while retaining many of Francesca’s most beloved dishes, ensuring a balanced offering. Notable enhancements include the elevation of the wine and cocktail lists. Scott Harris is considering undertaking renovations for a few more locations this year. Francesca’s still holds significant potential, and we want to bring it up to date. To that end, in the past year we introduced new china, glassware and flatware to all our locations, which has had a tremendous impact. Our chefs use the plate as their canvas and so, the ability to work and cook with superior equipment and serve on nicer plates translates into the food itself,” he highlights. 

Operational efficiencies 

While traditional foods and familiar-feeling locations are both critical elements to its success, Scott Harris doesn’t shy away from introducing modern elements to the business. Always on the lookout for the most efficient and user-friendly management software, it has ultimately found the combination that best suits its needs. “Amongst the variety of options we tried, Restaurant 365 has proven to be a great choice for us and has provided us with a framework that works well across all our concepts. It integrates scheduling, accounts payable, inventory, and labor management, allowing us to make real-time business decisions. OpenTable is another platform we returned to due to its prevalence in the suburban marketplace where most of our restaurants are located. It brings in foot traffic and fills our seats, which is crucial. During the pandemic, we briefly switched to another reservation platform that focused on booking experiences and prepaid options, but it didn’t meet our needs. OpenTable, on the other hand, has evolved and integrated new features such as real-time reviews from Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, combining everything into one platform. In addition, we changed our POS platform and transitioned to Toast, which offers impressive capabilities. Each system has its pros and cons and so, it’s crucial to find the platform that best suits your company and operations. For us, these three platforms align well with our brand and how we operate, and we plan to continue using them for the long term,” he ends. 

Under Scott and Jaysen’s visionary leadership, Scott Harris is poised for further expansion, driven by unique culinary concepts and a commitment to hospitality.