Chef and owner Greg Baxtrom and farmer Ian Rothman open Olmsted in the heart of Prospect Heights. The 50-seat restaurant showcases a seasonal menu that pulls from Baxtrom’s experience at Alinea, Per Se, Atera, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and most recently of Lysverket in Norway. In addition, the space includes a lush, 25-seat backyard garden that Baxtrom designed with Rothman, former horticulturist at Atera, where the two met and became friends. Repurposed wood from an old barn on Baxtrom’s family home outside of Chicago are seen in touches throughout the restaurant, such as the framing around the chef’s counter and in the bookshelf housing Baxtrom’s extensive cookbook selection.
How did you get into the industry?
My first job as at Wendy’s, at 15 Wendy’s was the only place that would hire a 15 year old in my town. I fell in love with cooking while cooking with my father & brother in the boy scouts on weekend camping trips.
Any emerging industry trends?
Chef’s wearing collared dress shirts instead of chef jackets.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Staffing is always a huge challenge; our position on compensation is that our full time employees should be making more than industry average. We believe in creating an environment where we demand a lot from our staff, but the harder you work the more we have to give.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My original concept was a large scale urban farm with a space that held a fine dining restaurant, a tavern, & a bakery. After years of starting and stopping I realized the core of what I needed to feel comfortable starting my business: a garden, a living wall, 50 seats give or take, & a full bar. Olmsted was born out of that simplification.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
The garden will be growing. We are adding a green house, a tiny field, and a perennial jungle. We really want to push on the closed system angle.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Overall price point, playful, delicious, & photographic food, & treating the staff well while maintaining a high standard.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Everyday @ 5:30pm when the restaurant opens its doors for the night!
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
With Olmsted we wanted to create a restaurant that could be many different things. Everything from a neighborhood joint for local to just pop in at the bar for glass of wine & an entrée to starting a longer form meal in the garden and maybe finishing it outside as well. Our ideal experience is exceeding the guests expectation, whatever it may be.
How do you motivate others?
Lead by example, clearly communicate & set expectations, and hold people accountable.
Career advice to those in your industry?
You never know everything so don’t act like it, put your head down and don’t look up until you are where you want to be.