Light up a stogie, Wheaton.
Legendary Bears coach and player Mike Ditka and his business partners will open a new restaurant downtown this fall. And their latest venture will bear the name of the cigar-smoking, vest-wearing Chicago sports icon.
Ditka’s Grill will stand out from the traditional, white-tablecloth steakhouses backed by the Ditka’s Restaurants Group. The new iteration of Ditka’s will introduce sushi to the menu while still focusing on steaks, chops and seafood.
“We’re calling it more of a sophisticated, casual dining environment,” said Paul Woodard, vice president of hospitality operations and a company partner.
The restaurant group is expanding its suburban footprint after closing the Ditka’s in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood in May 2020 after more than 20 years in business. At the time, the company cited the economic fallout of COVID-19. Its lease in the Tremont Hotel also was expiring.
“For downtown, we were going to move our restaurant,” Woodard said. “We had another location picked out, but due to COVID and just the climate down there, we decided to pull out of where we were going to move that restaurant, so it really changed our strategic plan, especially in the near term, here.”
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The company has been looking to grow in some smaller markets, and Wheaton “hit on the top of our list,” Woodard said.
Another partner, Tony Ficorilli, moved to Wheaton from Pittsburgh, where he also ran a Ditka’s. Ficorilli now lives about a half-mile away from the new restaurant, the company’s fourth location.
Ditka’s Grill will take over a former bank building located on a prime corner at Front Street and Wheaton Avenue.
“This is a testament to just how desirable our downtown has become that Ditka’s Restaurant Group is choosing Wheaton for its new location,” Mayor Phil Suess said in a statement. “The city of Wheaton is finishing a four-year investment in our city through our Downtown Streetscape Project, and the commitment we put into making downtown Wheaton an attractive destination is proving to be worthwhile.
“Businesses can see that they are valued here, and they recognize the benefits of being located in a thriving, unique place.”
Renderings show a sleek design, hardwood tables and intimate booths. The interior will seat about 170, while a covered patio will have room for 30 to 40 outside.
Unlike other Ditka’s outposts, it won’t be heavy on the sports-themed decor.
“We will be a wine-centric restaurant, so there’ll be wine displays when you walk through the restaurant,” Woodard said.
Ditka’s will curate an extensive wine list of about 125 to 150 bottles to start.
“Being in business, as long as we have, we’ve built up some great relationships with some of the best domestic producers that you can possibly have,” Woodard said.
Another long-standing Ditka’s vendor, Meats by Linz in Calumet City, will supply steaks and pork chops for the Wheaton spot. The dinner menu also will feature entree salads.
“We buy the absolute possible best seafood in the marketplace, so you’ll find great king salmon and wonderful seasonal white fishes like halibut or some nice striped bass on the menu,” Woodard said.
The restaurant group also operates Ditka’s in Oakbrook Terrace and Westmont’s Grill 89, Ditka’s jersey number. After weathering in-person dining closures, Ditka’s properties “are up where they were in 2019 in terms of sales,” Woodard said, “and we’re kind of starting to hit our stride again.”
Will Da Coach be making any appearances in Wheaton? He’s set to hold court at a small, private VIP event to give preopening tours of the restaurant to city leaders before heading back to his Florida home.
Ditka’s also will donate to Clare Woods Academy, a nonprofit Wheaton school that helps children and young adults with developmental and learning disabilities become employed and self-sufficient.