Book a table at Livia Italian Eatery—the new Italian spot in downtown Elmhurst—and you’ll see things that will make your head spin and eat food that makes your stomach purr.
Every night, giant butcher boards dappled with Italian antipasti—truffled nuggets of gouda, pink curls of prosciutto, and savory mounds of marinated artichokes and briny olives—come marching out of the kitchen to salivating diners.
Blink your eyes and another mouthwatering delicacy will fly by. Gorgonzola-crusted lamb chops. Bowls of four-cheese-stuffed tortallacci. And juicy pork chops as big as a porterhouse.
And then there’s the dining room itself, flush with custom copper chandeliers, solid-walnut furniture, a marble bar and a baby grand piano that drifts toe-tapping harmonies across the entire open-floor plan.
Boisterous. Musical. Delicious.
This is the way Livia’s owners—restauranteur Brian Goewey, chef Mike Bomberger, as well as fellow partners Gino Alimondi, Fred Schaller, and Charles Walsh Jr.—wanted it. The goal was to build a chic, yet homey, downtown destination that could stand out from the legion of red-sauce spots in the Western Suburbs.
“When the previous tenant left our property, I wanted to bring in a restaurant that was reflective of how much Elmhurst means to me personally,” says Walsh, who owns the retail building through his company, Walsh Partners. “We needed something of excellent quality and the right chef/owner/operator to do it.”
Walsh only had one man in mind for the job: Brian Goewey.
The pair first met five years ago, during one of those rare business meetings looking at space to lease when the two entrepreneurs realize they’re kindred spirits.
Twenty minutes in, they were practically finishing each other’s sentences, each uninterested in anything approaching the status quo. “To be truly successful you can’t ever be content; you have to always push forward,” says Walsh. “It was clear to me that whatever restaurant Brian owned and operated, he was going to be successful at it.”
Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t quite right then, but both men walked away feeling assured their paths would cross again.
Time passed, during which Walsh continued his more than 25-year commitment to revitalizing downtown Elmhurst. His list of projects, many of which were developed with his father Chuck Walsh, spoke for themselves: Elmhurst Place Apartments, Elmhurst City Hall, Charlestown Place Apartments, and Schiller Shops.
Having lived in Elmhurst most of his life, Walsh was charged with revitalizing the city’s downtown by building apartments, boosting parking, drawing in new tenants and, not coincidentally, bringing in more restaurants.
Meanwhile, Goewey went about building a formidable restaurant group of his own. After studying Neapolitan pizza cooking techniques in New York, he opened Fire + Wine in Glen Ellyn, a very popular location which offers a full range of Italian specialties, including brick-fired pizzas. He followed this with more successes in the opening of two Gia Mia pizza eateries in downtowns Wheaton and Geneva.
As a matter of fact, Goewey was busy opening his first Livia Italian Eatery outpost in downtown Geneva early last summer—literally kneeling on the floor, doing his own grout work—when Walsh came knocking, five years after initially meeting.
Walsh told Goewey that a unique restaurant space had opened in his property and was wondering if Goewey was now ready to bring one of his concepts downtown Elmhurst. Since their first meeting, Walsh and his wife Violetta had been performing their due diligence by frequently dining at Goewey’s restaurants, always leaving in awe and amazed after every dining experience. Walsh thought, “Brian, his team and concept had to come to Elmhurst.”
Initially, Goewey hesitated. He wasn’t even done with the first Livia location yet. “But then my entrepreneurial side got the better of me,” says Goewey. “Millions of dollars had been invested in downtown Elmhurst and the vibe seemed right for a restaurant like Livia.”
A couple days later, a deal was struck. Goewey said he was a “go” provided Walsh could give him a few months, with Walsh joining as a partner.
Thanks to plenty of artistic vision from Goewey’s wife Lisa, the space was renovated in just 44 days and officially opened on November 7.
So far, it’s been a win-win for all involved, especially local diners. A stable of loyal regulars have already formed, coming in a few nights a week, thanks in part to the synergies and shared vision forged between Walsh, Goewey and their partners.
“When you’re a restaurant owner, you have to put your strongest foot forward,” says Goewey. “With our team, we were able to do that, right from the start.”
Livia Italian Eatery is located at 116 East Schiller Street in Elmhurst, 630.402.6195, liviaitalianeatery.com.