Few restaurants can claim to have been around for nearly 20 years, but Caffe Buon Giorno, a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant in Winnetka, celebrates 19 years in business this year.
Owners and husband and wife team Mary Jo and Themis Vlahos had been looking for a restaurant to buy for a long time, when they stumbled upon what was then Grandma’s Cupboard in The Laundry Building on Chestnut Street in 1999. The day after purchasing the restaurant, the Vlahos’s immediately reopened as Caffe Buon Giorno, which means “good morning” in Italian.
The transition was a little rocky at first for the couple, even though they both had restaurant experience, and Themis had grown up in the business. “I thought what did we do? What did we get into?” Mary Jo told DailyNorthShore.
But over time customers became smitten with Caffe Buon Giorno, and now the Vlahos’s have too many regulars to count. “It’s really nice. It’s like a little family,” Mary Jo said.
Both husband and wife can be found at the restaurant everyday — Themis is the chef, while Mary Jo manages the restaurant and bakes the pastries fresh daily. “We believe in being here. It’s made the difference for us,” Mary Jo explained, attributing their undivided attention to the success of the restaurant.
Attention to detail is a hallmark of Caffe Buon Giorno. Every week Themis travels to Chicago at 2:00 a.m. to the market to pick out fresh produce and meats. The Vlahos prefer to handpick their ingredients, in contrast to most restaurants which get their food delivered. Both grew up in European families with a passion for food — Mary Jo’s family is Italian and Themis is Greek. “There is a passion buried in (our culture). We want to it to be what we would eat,” Mary Jo said.
Many customers are drawn to Caffe Buon Giorno for its soups. On any given day, it is no uncommon to see an assortment of about 12 soups, all made fresh. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant a chalkboard says: “Souping is the new juicing,” noting that soups provide all of the vitamins and antioxidants of juice without the sugar. Mary Jo said many busy mom’s stop by to take-out soup, the perfect meal for a family on-the-go.
“It’s always on the stove. A good soup takes time,” Mary Jo said.
All of the soups are made from homemade stock and are naturally thick from ingredients — no flours or thickeners are ever added. While the Tuscan bean kale is popular, as is the butternut squash, all of the soups have their fans. “Even in the summer we sell a lot of soup,” Mary Jo said.
Caffe Buon Giorno is also known for its breakfast, which is served all day. Omelettes are a popular choice, such as the Greek omelette with feta cheese, as are the fresh blueberry pancakes.
In addition to the restaurant, the Vlahos’s also claim the North Shore as their home, where they are raising their son and daughter, ages 12 and 14 respectively. They love the sense of community. “The North Shore has been great to us. It’s a very family-oriented community and loyal clientele,” Mary Jo said.
Caffe Buon Giorno is located in The Laundry Building at 566 Chestnut Street, Winnetka and is open Tuesday through Sunday 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.