Patrick O’Neil has owned many restaurants in different towns over the years—from Evanston to Racine—but it’s Winnetka that has his heart. “I grew up here,” shares O’Neil, “and Winnetka has always been our most successful location.”
So it’s not a surprise, then, that there are three O’Neil-owned restaurants forming a hospitality triangle around the downtown and Hubbard Woods neighborhoods. Little Ricky’s, a family BBQ restaurant, opened 12 years ago and brings in crowds with a menu that has something for everyone “from two to 92,” as O’Neil says. Trifecta Grill, which sports an urban-chic vibe—wine ATM, craft cocktails, thin-crust pizzas, cool lighting, great patio—has been open for almost three years.
But it’s his flagship restaurant, O’Neil’s in Hubbard Woods, that he’s most jazzed about right now. Closed for two months in 2014 for a complete remodel, they reopened with a new chef, a new menu and revamped—and more casual—décor, including a gorgeous, 10-foot long aquarium. Even the music playlist has evolved.
Why the change? “For a long time, we were the only game in town. But now, Wilmette has become a real mecca for restaurants. So we’ve got to keep it fresh,” says O’Neil. “You’ve got to give the people what they want.”
“People had been asking for change for years, and at first I was resistant. But then I could see business was flattening out, and I started to listen. We were stagnant here for seven years, and I realized, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. But now, we’ve got so much talent here. It’s the best food we’ve done in 23 years,” O’Neil enthuses.
O’Neil and his wife, Mary (a great cook in her own right) split their time between the restaurants and their homes in Chicago and Racine, Wisc. He’s got big plans for sons Patrick, currently in the Marine Corps, and James, a student at the Culinary Arts Program at Kendall College: the next generation of O’Neil’s restaurants.
Asked what he loves most about his business, O’Neil says, “It’s like having a dinner party every night—times three restaurants. All these people come, you feed them and they’re happy. When they’re happy, so are we.” Spoken like a true restaurateur: The customers’ needs always come first.
O’Neil’s, 1003 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-446-7100, oneilswinnetka.com
Little Ricky’s, 540 Lincoln Ave., Winnetka, 847-784-1444, littlerickysrestaurant.com
Trifecta Grill, 501 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847-441-1700, trifectagrillwinnetka.com