When Marianna Shubalis Bannos was a little girl, her mother taught her to always look on the bright side of life, to seek out the goodness in any situation, even if it felt hard or uncertain.
Those lessons, and those family bonds, stay with the Oak Brook mother today as she navigates challenges no one could have seen coming—from changes in her marriage to award-winning chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. to the impact of COVID-19 on her husband’s restaurant business.
“Whether it’s the current pandemic or any life circumstance, we have to remember that the sun is going to continue to rise,” says Marianna. “The seasons will change. We can’t always control the outcome, but we can do our best to move through it gracefully.
Sometimes, she says, it’s not the crisis that defines us, but how we overcome it.
One of the things she and Jimmy Jr. had in common from the beginning was the bond that they had with their families. Hers was of the close-knit Greek type, and a big part of the reason she moved back to Illinois after working in the New York fashion industry.
Jimmy Jr., owner of The Purple Pig in Chicago and a 2014 James Beard Rising Star Chef winner, is from a similar background and is of both Greek and Italian heritage. He grew up cooking with his legendary chef father, Jimmy Bannos Sr., at Heaven on Seven, where he learned the recipe to success in life was always to put family first.
So that’s what he does today, in good times and in bad.
“Jimmy and I both agree that our greatest blessings in life are our children, Gianna and Olivia,” says Marianna, explaining that the couple is in the midst of a separation. “That sentiment doesn’t change, regardless of what may change around us. With that said, we will always partner to raise them with endless love and support to be healthy and happy children.”
Marianna says while she and Jimmy Jr. lived just a short walk from The Purple Pig when the couple was newly married in 2012, she always knew she wanted to move back to her hometown of Oak Brook.
“Having grown up in this suburb, I have always felt attached to Oak Brook because of its beauty, peacefulness, and sense of community,” she says, explaining that they bought a 1960s fixer-upper here in 2016. “In addition, my parents still live in my childhood home, which happens to be only a few doors away from us now.”
While Marianna and Jimmy Jr. continue building their business ventures, which now include The Purple Pig, Piggie Smalls Mediterranean, The Salumeria (at Wells Street Market), and a new concept that will be opening in Los Angeles next year, Marianna has also found her creative outlet in renovating the house.
“Though it was well-kept, we completely renovated the interior and went from yellow shag carpet to a much more contemporary look,” she says. “Working on the house was a new creative outlet for me, which gave me something to be inspired about outside of work and motherhood. It was something that I put my heart in to and I really enjoyed managing the planning and watching the progress unfold.”
How does the celebrity chef spend time outside the kitchen?
“For him, family time with our daughters means engaging in activities outside of the kitchen, giving him an opportunity to recharge his batteries from the long restaurant hours,” explains Marianna. “However, because of my Greek heritage and Jimmy’s Italian and Greek heritage, food is an important part of our culture. So, having the ability to cook, eat good food, and host loud family dinners is a big part of our family life.”
While their home lives are changing, some things will always remain the same. One of those is their devotion to 6-year-old Gianna and 4-year-old Olivia, not to mention the family’s Cocker Spaniel, Roma. Even though Jimmy Jr. has been keeping busy at the restaurant during the pandemic, he sees them as much as his busy schedule will allow.
“Getting Jimmy back into the kitchen has served multiple purposes,” she adds. “In a time when the world feels so changed, it has given him an opportunity to offer his talents to lighten the burden of others. It has kept people from having to make that one extra trip to the grocery store or experiencing the frustrating attempts to order groceries online. It has saved busy moms like me from having to come up with yet another meal to cook—and wash yet another round of pots and pans. It has brought the city dining experience into homes across Chicagoland. And in turn, it has kept Jimmy at his happiest and healthiest, allowing him to do what he does best and create some amazing dishes at The Purple Pig.”
Jimmy Jr. says tips made from delivery orders or any gift card purchases to The Purple Pig are being gifted to his staff, currently on furlough, to support their financial needs during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Marianna admits that she enjoys the special one-on-one time she has at home with her girls.
“It has influenced me to push my creative boundaries. While some days have been more for reflection and being cozy in our pajamas all day, others have been about creating and capturing special moments together,” she explains. “We’ve enjoyed our time with home schooling, doing science experiments, crafts, baking, and having our daily dance parties with the Alexa speaker blasting.”
Just as her mother taught her and her two sisters to find the good things in any situation, she’s similarly showing her daughters that as long as you keep a positive attitude, you can be happy anywhere.
“I hope that one day my daughters will tell stories about how in the spring of 2020, while they were physically distanced from family and friends, that their world didn’t stop otherwise,” she adds.
When not spending time on a new house project or taking a walk around Ginger Creek with her daughters, Marianna devotes herself to local charities. One of her favorites is Operation North Pole (ONP), a volunteer-based nonprofit that provides a fantasy trip to the North Pole for young people who are battling life-threatening illnesses in Chicago’s major children’s hospitals. Each year, she sponsors a child by fulfilling their personal wish list. The Purple Pig also provides donations to help expand ONP’s mission for the care of children.
Marianna also supports Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child at Christ Church of Oak Brook as a way to teach her girls about giving each year. She is also a member of the Philoptochos fundraising group at her parish, Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church.
With summer finally here and restrictions lifting in the village, Marianna says she’s looking forward to sunnier days ahead for everyone and playdates with cousins and friends.
“Gianna recently learned how to ride her bike without training wheels, so I expect we’ll be making laps around Ginger Creek a bit quicker this summer,” she adds. “And because my parents live in our community and are such an integral part of my life and our daughters’, we like to visit them regularly or ‘ding-dong ditch’ them on our bike rides, too.”
You would never know that snow had just fallen in May or that the world as we’ve known it was just forever changed.
It’s all about perspective. Marianna Bannos says, “Finding a new way of seeing things, refocusing on the positive, and being grateful for life’s blessings—no matter how great or small—will give you a new outlook on life and the ability to refocus on relationships and the things that matter most.”