Landmark Chicago Eatery to Serve Up Franchises

Replicating Lou Mitchell's "not going to be an easy feat"

Call it the breakfast place of champions. And it's growing.

The 86-year-old Lou Mitchell's Restaurant and Bakery, at 565 W. Jackson Blvd., will begin selling a limited number of franchises, beginning their expansion efforts in the Chicago area.

But replicating the spirit of the initial restaurant will be a challenge.

"We've spent not only a considerable amount of financial resources, but a considerable amount of time working that out," said Nicholas Thanas, the third-generation president of Lou Mitchell's, in a telephone interview.  "It's not going to be an easy feat, I'm not going to kid you."

An architectural firm aided the company with the franchise to duplicate the shape of the space, the detailed mill work, the signage, floor tiles and the lightning.

Even the heights and colors of booths and the counter has been specified.

Thanas, who runs the business with his mother and sister, says one of the best things he hears from customers is their appreciation that some good things never change.

"One of the nicest, or the best things that we hear is someone saying, 'You know, this is exactly how I remember it,'" he said.

The expansion will be slow. Chicagoland is the first priority, with a secondary focus on the Midwest, perhaps in university towns like Madison, Wis., and South Bend, Ind..

The family hopes a national expansion will follow.

One thing that was fairly easy, Thanas said, was the decision to franchise out, rather than just get into partnerships with other restaurateurs.

"It's difficult, from time-to-time, to dictate to a partner in a relationship or in any form, what it is they're doing wrong. When you're in a system, and you're in a franchise world, it's very simple: these are the rules, this is the way things are done, this is the way we want it created, this is how we want to keep that true Lou Mitchell's spirit alive," he said.

While no paperwork has yet been signed, Thanas said the family has already been in talks with a couple of possible franchisees and thinks they're "very close" to cementing their first deal.

The restaurant, situated near the start of Route 66, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, and has hosted U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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