John Hogan has a hard time recalling which came first—playing music or playing chef. “That’s so hard to say, I had a hankering for both as a kid,” says the Chicago native who used to con his way into downtown clubs as a teenager to see his favorite blues acts and had a brief stint as a band promoter. That was before he became a lauded chef and had the idea to bring music to his own venues.
The idea began in the ‘90s with Savarin, his noted French restaurant, which hosted live music on Friday nights. Music is also now a part of River Roast, a meat-centric destination popular for its carving stations as much as its Thursday night showcases and Blues & Brews weekend brunches. Here, you can see local bands and also frequently catch Hogan stepping up to the mic. The restaurant (in partnership with Tony Mantuano) has plans to soon expand the program, too, including private performances for groups. “We want to keep it moving forward for many reasons, not just for us as a restaurant, but to keep the fire of Chicago blues burning,” Hogan says.
ILM+E: In your opinion, what are the commonalities of music and food?
JH: I think there’s a lot of connections, with the blues especially. It started down in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s when people would go to Sunday church and then have their early Sunday supper before playing music on the porch. That’s true Americana. With our concept of River Roast, it’s very communityoriented, too. We have a lot of big tables and a lot of people sharing food, and the blues kind of bleeds into that gathering space.
ILM+E: How can event planners tap into the music programming?
JH: Besides our offerings every other Thursday and on the weekends, we’ve started to push our sales office to include blues in the private dining sector. We’re in the midst of putting together a dinner package with food and music
ILM+E: River Roast actually has one of the largest private dining spaces in Chicago. What do you offer in addition to the tunes?
JH: It’s huge, we have approximately 24,000 square feet in here. We’ve branded it as River Roast Private Events and have a lot of our dining room touches on the menu either with a set table or plate-ups if they’re doing a la carte. We can always customize it.