Back in May, Chicago-based 8 Hospitality made the decision to close the Hubbard Inn after eight years of operation to refresh the space.
Carmen Rossi, who founded 8 Hospitality after opening Hubbard Inn in 2011, promised to deliver a new vision for the venue while maintaining the name and brand.
The reimagined concept was unveiled during a grand re-opening in October. The River North fixture’s return to operation has been lauded by Chicago foodies, cocktailians and press alike.
Rossi took the time to speak with us about the motivation behind the renovation, creating a new concept that stays to true to its roots, and more.
1. What motivated the decision to close for renovation after eight years of operation?
The lease was coming to an end and we saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the brand with a complete overhaul of the space while retaining the beloved elements of the staple that is Hubbard Inn. Hubbard Street is an iconic street in Chicago’s River North, and the building at 110 W Hubbard has been a dynamic leader of hospitality, unique across the city as a three-floor concept. The renovations have been considerable as we aim to highlight Chicago's award-winning food scene complementary to an elevated cocktail program. While the spirit of Hubbard Inn remains in both name and texture, the reopening of Hubbard Inn presents a new and fresh direction in River North. We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to establish Hubbard Inn as a continued landmark in the neighborhood that’s always embraced us.
2. Since a venue that’s closed even temporarily produces no revenue, closing for a renovation is a big financial decision. How was the downtime weathered?
There was a lot of time for research and development of new and exciting projects, as well as taking a step back and strengthening our other 8 Hospitality venues. Even when a restaurant is closed, there is plenty to do behind the scenes.
3. What challenges were encountered during the renovation? How were they overcome?
We hit a couple of deadline and budgeting snags along the way, but nothing serious, and quite standard in the industry. When doing a renovation of this magnitude, you make all the initial decisions based on drawings and blueprints. But when you see space begin to come to life, pivots and adjustments are made accordingly.
4. How did the renovation refresh the Hubbard Inn but remain authentic to the brand?
We wanted a fresh take on a genuinely good product. We believe in the concept and core of Hubbard Inn, but it was time that we gave the neighborhood something new. An elevated food program with a classic, yet sophisticated cocktail program is what we envisioned. The decor and color scheme, as well as bar layout and furniture, produced a different flow than from the previous conceptual layout. Having three floors and three different concepts in one space is unique in the city and we needed to capitalize on that.
5. How has the staff responded to the new space?
With excitement and eagerness to make it their own. We brought our staff in early so they had the opportunity to help setup the areas that they would be working in, giving them a sense of ownership. We all want to take pride in where we work.
6. What training did the staff undergo before reopening?
We brought in an all new staff and new food and beverage menu. So, training was extensive. Every aspect from our steps of service to complete product tastings: wine, beer, cocktail program and food menu training.
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7. What changes did the food menu undergo?
With a new executive chef on our team, one major change in theme to Hubbard Inn was a complete overhaul to the menu. We want to showcase American cuisine described as “American sharable” that is both elegant in flavor and playful in presentation.
8. How has the bar program changed?
We worked closely with a Chicago mixologist consultant to create cocktail menus that drew inspiration from the surroundings on each floor. And to further elevate the level of hospitality we can offer our guests, we hired the best, highly experienced bartenders in the city, so come and pick their brains.
On the first floor, we have inspired cocktails, meaning reinterpreted classic cocktails—both familiar and obscure life riffs on the Mint Julep, Cobbler, Brown Derby and Gunshot Fizz. An ingredient-forward menu with thoughtful uses of flowers, fruit, vegetables, and other botanicals complement the garden-like atmosphere of Blue Violet, our cocktail lounge on the second floor, where guests will find large format, fun presentations and CBD activations.
9. Tell our readers about Blue Violet and how it fits within the renovation.
Blue Violet is an escape in the middle of a busy city. With a serene, floral focus and a variety of seating options, it is a great space to go on a date or catch up with a group of friends, or even let loose for a night. It is complementary to the other two floors at Hubbard Inn. We see it as the perfect spot for an after-dinner drink or Friday night kickoff location.
10. What was the guest response to the closure? How are they responding to the renovation?
Guests were disappointed. Over the years, Hubbard Inn accumulated a great base of regular customers. But, on the flip side, most people like to experience something new. There was a great deal of anticipation to see the new product.
11. Is there a design feature of which you’re particularly proud?
We were very happy with the entire project. Personally, I think the private dining room is spectacular. It really came out better than expected. But, after getting feedback from friends, family, and the general public, the second floor really seems to be a fan favorite.
12. Are there food and beverage items of which you’re particularly proud?
I love the Bone-in Ribeye with a glass of the Prisoner Red Blend. My favorite cocktail is Shot in the Dark, inspired by a Mint Julep with Old Forester Bourbon, Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao, chicory, blackstrap bitters, toasted fenugreek, and mint. But when it comes to cocktails, it really depends on what spirit the guest drinking it prefers