Chicago is renowned for its deep-dish pizza and vibrant food scene, but one dish holds a special place in the hearts of locals: the Italian beef sandwich. And at the heart of this culinary tradition is Mr. Beef, an iconic sandwich shop that has been feeding the city for over six decades.
Meet Chris Zucchero, the owner of Mr. Beef, who takes great pride in preserving the legacy of this beloved establishment. Recently, Mr. Beef had the privilege of catering for FX’s hit show “The Bear” Season 2, where Chris provided hot Italian beef sandwiches with sweet peppers and spicy giardiniera for Hollywood’s finest.
The creator of “The Bear,” Christopher Storer, drew inspiration from Mr. Beef and even shot 90% of the pilot episode in the restaurant. In fact, he cast Chris Zucchero himself in a small role. But while “The Bear” has gained significant recognition, Chris remains focused on the restaurant that has been his life’s work since his father acquired Mr. Beef in 1979.
A Lifelong Friendship
Chris Zucchero and Christopher Storer have been friends since their early school days. Their shared passion for creativity was evident even back then. As children, they would re-enact scenes from movies, with Storer directing their imaginative play. Their friendship endured beyond high school, and whenever Storer visited Chicago, he made it a point to stop by Mr. Beef to catch up with Chris.
The Unexpected Opportunity
Years later, Storer approached Chris with a promise to write about Mr. Beef. Skeptical at first, Chris brushed it off, thinking it was just Hollywood talk. However, fate had other plans. One day, Chris received a call from his right-hand man, Jason, informing him about a pilot called “The Bear” that wanted to film at Mr. Beef. The gravity of the opportunity slowly sank in, and Chris gave his wholehearted approval, not fully comprehending the impact it would have.
The Power of Humble Beginnings
Despite the show’s success and growing fame, Chris Zucchero remains grounded. He has never watched a single episode of “The Bear” or sought publicity for Mr. Beef. For him, it’s not about being the face of a popular show; it’s about staying true to the essence of his restaurant. Chris believes that food people, unlike actors or musicians, don’t require such attention. The success of Mr. Beef has always relied on authenticity and word-of-mouth recommendations.
The Bear Comes to Mr. Beef
The pilot episode of “The Bear” was shot entirely at Mr. Beef, capturing the authentic atmosphere of the restaurant. However, as the show gained traction and got picked up for more seasons, they built a replica of Mr. Beef on a set in Cinespace. The attention to detail was incredible, down to the stains on the wall. The cast and crew would still visit the original restaurant to maintain a connection with the place that inspired the show.
From Restaurateur to Actor
Not only did Mr. Beef serve as the backdrop for “The Bear,” but Chris Zucchero also found himself in front of the camera. Unexpectedly, he was asked to audition for a role in the pilot, and despite initial confusion, he took on the challenge. This experience gave him a newfound respect for actors and the difficulty of their craft.
A Boost for Business
“The Bear” undeniably brought exposure and increased attention to Mr. Beef. The show’s premiere sparked daily conversations about the beloved sandwich shop. Chris jokingly describes how Mr. Beef transformed from a gritty establishment into something akin to Central Perk from “Friends.” The influx of visitors seeking a taste of the famous Italian beef has been both overwhelming and thrilling for Chris.
A Proud Legacy
Before his passing, Chris’s father was proud of the recognition Mr. Beef had received through the show. He held a close relationship with Courtney Storer, Christopher’s sister and culinary producer for “The Bear.” Witnessing the show’s impact and the care taken to recreate the restaurant filled him with pride. However, he couldn’t resist jokingly threatening Christopher Storer to protect his beloved establishment during the filming process.
Despite the show’s influence, Chris Zucchero is determined to preserve the classic identity of Mr. Beef. He carefully balances the show’s memorabilia with the restaurant’s original spirit, ensuring that the focus remains on the food and the experience. For Chris, the restaurant is not just a job; it’s a way of life. It’s the place that has been his constant, and he cherishes the opportunity to carry on the tradition that his father started.
So, if you ever find yourself at Mr. Beef, make sure to order their famous Italian beef sandwich. With its succulent meat, hot peppers, and signature dipping sauce, it’s a taste of Chicago’s culinary history that you won’t want to miss.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Source: Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ