Restaurateur's roots planted in Mon Valley
To say Luke Stoioff has enjoyed success in the restaurant and bar business in Chicago would be an understatement.
And Stoioff, who has strong ties to Donora, and his business partner, David Rekhson, are perpetuating that positive performance pattern with their newest venture, Siena Tavern, which is located at 51 W. Kinzie St. near Chicago's busy North Side.
Stoioff and Rekhson are principals and founders of Dine/Amic Group, which strives to develop innovative and enduring businesses in the hospitality industry by creating “extraordinary experiences for our patrons.” It also offers consulting services on such aspects of the hospitality business as design and development, restaurant/bar operational management, investment strategy and marketing.
“Our approach to business is basically a blend of structured corporate professionalism mixed with progressive, tight-knit small family business mentality,” Stoioff, 32, said. “Balancing these two ideas is very important to our success because it creates a situation where our employees have a sense of passionate ownership over the business. With open-minded, outside-the-box attitudes, however, they too don't take advantage of the companies' avant-garde culture. Each of our nearly 500 employees is regularly reminded of their value to the organization and that their contribution in whatever job they have is appreciated.”
That approach has worked well for Stoioff and Rekhson, a native of the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood, Ohio, in their operations of the Bull & Bear, Public House and now Siena Tavern, which continues to draw strong response from customers and the media.
In their review of Siena Tavern in Michigan Avenue magazine, writers Elle Eichinger and Meg Mathis called the restaurant “this year's breakout Italian spot … one of the epicenters of the evening action downtown.”
“On a typical Saturday night, it's packed with people who have waited months to get a reservation,” Eichinger and Mathis said. “Top Chef's Fabio Viviani's authentic Italian cuisine is flawless, but after the dinner rush the focus takes a decided turn toward cocktails. Stoioff and Rekhson sip drinks as they entertain friends and guests, but their eyes and ears are everywhere — on the food as it comes out of the kitchen, on the volume of the music, on the dimness of the lights.”
Stoioff is the son of Donora natives David A. Stoioff and Dr. Madonna Mouyard Stoioff, longtime residents of Chicago..
The elder Stoioff, an attorney, is a 1967 graduate of Donora High School. He is the son of Hilda Bartoli Stoioff of Donora and the late Robert “Babe” Stoioff, a standout fullback on Donora High's football teams in the early 1940s who is considered one of the all-time greats in Mon Valley gridiron history. His brother Rick and his family live in Donora, and another brother, Bob, lives in Elizabeth.
Mrs. Stoioff, a 1968 graduate of Monongahela Valley Catholic High School, is the daughter of the late Joseph and Jean Rongaus Mouyard. She has her doctorate and works with the hearing impaired. Her father, Joseph Mouyard, was the longtime Washington County Clerk of Courts. Jean Mouyard was the sister of the late Lee Rongaus, owner-operator of the nationally recognized Redwood restaurant in Donora for some 30 years, and Dr. William Rongaus and Dr. Walter Rongaus.
“Madonna and I have a number of relatives in the Mon Valley, as well as many friends there,” David Stoioff said.
Luke Stoioff has been to Donora many, many times for family gatherings, holidays or “just to drop in and out to see my Grandma Hilda and feast on her delicious manicotti and homemade cherry pie.”
“My pastry chef is still trying to replicate that pie but hasn't as of yet got it to be as good as Grandma's,” Stoioff said with a knowing smile.
“Every time we drive into town, as we pass the ‘Home of Champions' sign, I am reminded of the long and storied history of the many successful people that have come out of Donora — not just famous athletes, but many ‘champions' in all walks of life,” he said. “Donora is filled with hard-working, caring and unselfish people who are always willing to help a friend or a stranger.
“My parents are proud to call Donora home and they have passed on to me the small-town values they grew up with there – the importance of family and friends, humility, kindness and respect toward others, as well as a deep sense of patriotism.”
Those traits have helped guide Stoioff throughout his professional career, just as they did during his formative years in Northbrook, Ill., a northern suburb of Chicago.
He graduated from Glenbrook North High School in 1999 and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Loyola University in New Orleans in 2003. He then attended John Marshall Law School in Chicago and graduated in 2008 with a Juris Doctor.
“Presently, I am not practicing law, but my law training has been invaluable in terms of my business pursuits,” said Stoioff, who worked as a law clerk in the narcotics division of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office during law school
Stoioff said he was inspired by his father to become a lawyer. David Stoioff was a career prosecutor in Chicago with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
“But I always had an interest in business,” Luke said. “The summer after graduating from college, I needed to earn money for law school tuition, so I started Hypewise Inc., a promotion company, which essentially promoted parties and other social events for local restaurants, bars and nightclubs.”
“Staying humble and remembering what it was like when we first started our company is another important part of our success,” Stoioff said. “The moment that people forget where they came from is the moment that their journey begins to founder.”
Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.