In 1969, Glenn Keefer started his restaurant career as a busboy in Amityville, NY. He took a brief detour to work as a commercial fisherman on an offshore lobster boat to pay for college tuition. But after he survived the sinking of his ship 30 miles off the coast of Montauk Point, NY, Keefer decided it was better to sell the fish in a restaurant than to catch it. Some 50 years later that decision has served him well with numerous award-winning restaurants, accolades and industry policy-changing achievements on his resume. This spring, Keefer brings his extensive restaurant experience and knowledge to Wilmette’s Sophia Steak, a new neighborhood steakhouse scheduled to open spring 2020.
Keefer began his Chicago restaurant career in 1980 when he was recruited by The Palm Chicago’s opening team to work as bartender at age 24. His 12 years at the popular Gold Coast restaurant, which counted the city’s who’s-who as its regulars, helped set the stage for Keefer’s eternal love for steakhouses as well plant some creative seeds for future ventures. It was also while working at the Palm that Keefer met Bill O’Donnell, whose son, Ryan, would play an important role in Keefer’s career.
In 1992, Keefer opened the Chicago Ruth’s Chris Steak House and was later promoted to Vice President of Operations for the largest of the company’s franchise groups. With eight restaurants under his watch, Keefer had one foot in human resources and the other in operations.
Armed with insider knowledge and insights, Keefer, along with his brother, Richard, and Jimmy de Castro, opened Keefer's Restaurant in 2001. At the River North restaurant, they expanded on the traditional steakhouse scenario, offering both wet- and dry-aged steaks. Acclaimed Chef John Hogan’s menu featured a number of French-leaning dishes too. Keefer served as the restaurant’s Managing Partner from 2001 to 2014. During that time Keefer's was Ranked “Best of Chicago for Steak” by The Food Network, one of the “Top Ten Steak Houses in the U.S.“ by Playboy Magazine.
In 2012, Keefer was awarded "Restaurateur of the Year" by the Illinois Restaurant Association and installed as Corporate Secretary of IRA in 2014. Keefer was also recipient of the Dennis F. Kelly award from Catholic Charities, given to a member of the Board of Advisors in recognition of his or her service to the poor. Keefer's Restaurant served over 30 thousand meals to the homeless.
With a strong desire to further expand the boundaries of what a steakhouse can be, Keefer has partnered with fellow restaurateur Ryan O’Donnell of Ballyhoo Hospitality to open Sophia Steak. Their friendship and mutual admiration began when O’Donnell worked for Keefer at his River North restaurant. It’s only grown stronger since. At their new restaurant, the duo is excited to bring a neighborhood steakhouse to Wilmette, offering a menu with wallet-friendly options as well as great steaks and a to-go menu in which every detail has been precisely executed.
Ballyhoo Hospitality is pleased to have Brendan McCarthy as Vice President and CMO. In this role, Brendan leads corporate initiatives for Ballyhoo Hospitality Management while supporting human resources, accounting, and marketing strategies to strengthen the company's growing portfolio of award-winning restaurants.
"Brendan has a passion for hospitality and brings more than two decades of proven leadership experience in hospitality with an emphasis on brand management and team leadership," said Ballyhoo CEO and Co-Founder Ryan O'Donnell. "His strong background in creating customer-focused experiences will be a valuable addition to our leadership team as we add to our portfolio of restaurants and continue to emphasize our commitment to being an employer of choice for our talented and passionate teams."
McCarthy works closely with Ballyhoo Hospitality COO Jon Farrer and comes to Ballyhoo Hospitality from KemperSports, the golf and resort hospitality management company where he served as National Director of Marketing, Sales and Revenue Management. Prior to that, he held multiple leadership roles with Vail Resorts, the premier mountain resort company in the world and a leader in luxury, where he developed and launched new guest experiences. His hospitality expertise ranges from brand development to human resource management.
McCarthy earned his bachelor's degree and MBA from the University of Denver, one of the leading hospitality management schools in the country.
Kate Thompson embraced her passion for hospitality while studying at the University of San Francisco. Graduating in 2009 with a degree in Business and Hospitality Management, she spent almost a decade in hotels (Hotel Monaco and The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, Hotel Teatro in Denver) and restaurants (Michelin Star Spruce, Coqueta San Francisco, Momotaro Chicago) before joining Ballyhoo Hospitality in 2018. Starting as Assistant General Manager of Walton Street, Kate's hard work and dedication quickly promoted her to General Manager. This role prepared her for the opening of Sophia Steak in Wilmette. As GM, her ability to adapt rapidly and thrive in adversity are just two of the many great qualities that helped Kate face the countless challenges during the pandemic. As she prepared for a grand opening in March of 2020, Kate navigated the forever-changing landscape of the industry with grace and motivation. Under her guidance, Sophia Steak developed the most successful takeout program of all Ballyhoo restaurants. With the growth of Ballyhoo on the North Shore, Kate now oversees three locations (Sophia Steak, Pomeroy, Buck Russel's Bakery, and Sandwich Shop), and counting, as Director of Operations.
Born and raised in Chicago, Shirley Roman started as a part-time contractor with Ballyhoo Hospitality in 2020. Quickly proving her dedication to the company, she moved into the role of Financial Controller in 2021. When she isn't crunching numbers, you can find Shirley in the kitchen trying new recipes, hiking in surrounding state parks, taking long road trips or spending time with her four children.
Rebecca started her career with Ballyhoo Hospitality as a host at Rustic House while attending school for Graphic Design at Columbia College. Over the next decade, Rebecca worked nearly every FOH position from host to server to manager. She designed the branding and logos for both Old Pueblo Cantina and Sophia Steak, eventually earning her current position as Creative Director of Ballyhoo Hospitality. Originally from Elmhurst, Rebecca now resides in Lincoln Park, just close enough to enjoy the occasional espresso martini at Gemini. When not at work, Rebecca enjoys spending time with her Goldendoodle, Schümer, and spending time with her family.
Nicole Manion brought 20+ years of experience in the hospitality industry to Ballyhoo Hospitality. A Michigan native, she moved to Chicago in 2007, landing at Quartino Restaurant, a perfect place to adjust to the city. With a desire to learn more, she accepted a position at The Gage in 2009, where her ingenuity took her from cocktail waitress to Director of Marketing in 2014. Nicole and her husband, John Manion, are owners of El Che Steakhouse & Bar, where she worked until the arrival of her first child. In 2019, she left restaurants and became a Marketing Manager at Kinship, a PR and marketing firm located in the West Loop. After 2.5 years together, Nicole switched back from the agency to restaurants as Ballyhoo's Director of Marketing.
Born and raised in Chicago, Jacqueline Parrilli is an all-star when it comes to guest service. Joining Ballyhoo Hospitality in 2021 as Director of Events, Jackie was no stranger to hospitality. Once the Director of Group Sales and Events at the United Center, she remembers fondly when Bruce Springstein dedicated a song to her from the stage. Jackie further honed her skills with Levy Restaurants, Navy Pier and Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants. An excellent addition the Ballyhoo team, Jackie oversees events at our North Shore restaurants (Sophia, Pomeroy and Buck Russell's).
When Sandie Santillanes first heard "know what the guest wants before they know they want it,
" she was motivated to have a career in hospitality. A Chicago native and a graduate from DePaul University with a bachelor's degree in Hospitality Leadership, Sandie was set up for a career in restaurants from the start. In her current role of Staff Accountant, she conducts day-to-day financial trend analysis. She enjoys spending time working on DIY projects with her children, reading books and taking road trips to discover new restaurants.
A Chicago Native, Ange Espeland, joined Ballyhoo Hospitality in February 2022 as a Payroll Specialist. Receiving their degree from Fox College, Ange was motivated to absorb as much information as possible. When Ange isn't making sure all of our hardworking employees are paid on time, you can find them supporting local restaurants, journaling, or performing improv and sketch comedy.
Miguel’s early interest in food began as a family affair. Following in the footsteps of his mother who worked in catering, he developed an early penchant for food. Upon arrival to Chicago, he gained many skills including teamwork from Noyes, basic full-service restaurant from Swisshotel, fine-dining and detail from Caliterra with Chef John Coletta, and opening a new concept at Custom House with Chef Richard Camarota, whom he met at Cafe Spiaggia. Working closely with Ryan O’Donnell, Miguel fine-tuned his ability to run a kitchen at Rustic House. In his current role as Senior Executive Chef, the ten-year Ballyhoo veteran continues to push boundaries and deliver excellent cuisine to his loyal guests at Gemini, including his signature grilled swordfish chop. Some of his favorite things about the job include creating menus, hearing positive feedback, and setting up a successful kitchen team. In his free time, Miguel enjoys playing soccer with his friends and traveling to Disney World with his family.