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With new name and celeb owner, Orly’s tries again

The new restaurant, still on 55th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard, will combine traditional elements from Orly’s with New Orleans cuisine.

Photo: Shane Coughlan/The Chicago Maroon
Co-owner and chef Jennifer Gavin presents her signature dishes at the new restaurant The Big Easy on 55th Street and Hyde Park.

After 29 years of operation and half-a-dozen incarnations, Orly’s Restaurant is again reopening. But this time, long-time owner David Shapiro is taking a back seat while an up-and-comer takes charge.

With help from new co-owner and chef Jennifer Gavin, known for her appearance on reality show Hell's Kitchen, Orly’s Restaurant reopened as The Big Easy in December. The new restaurant, still on 55th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard, will combine traditional elements from Orly’s with New Orleans cuisine.

Gavin, 26, has an extensive and diverse culinary background. She studied in Belgium and France, but said she remains rooted in her childhood exposure to southern cooking.  And her experience working with notorious Chef Gordon Ramsay during her time afforded her new opportunities.

Shapiro said he decided to focus on catering and phase out his role as owner of Orly’s six months ago, and began searching for a co-owner. Using Craigslist ads and word-of-mouth to advertise the open position, Shapiro searched for someone who could implement his concept: a New Orleans-style restaurant to Hyde Park. After interviewing 45 applicants, Shapiro hired Garvin.

The partnership was not without initial difficulties. “It’s been a transition. I’ve had to bite my tongue,” said Shapiro, who has owned and operated Orly’s for almost three decades.  Gavin revamped the menu to reflect her experience in Creole and Cajun flavors, while maintaining the same assortment of baked goods and breakfast items, as well as the bar and the traditional barbecue.

The interior of the restaurant reflects an updated menu and changed name. Shapiro’s experience while visiting restaurants in New Orleans inspired new furniture and repainted walls.

The co-owners hope the new atmosphere appeals to a younger clientele with the addition of television sets and new booth seating. “Students should expect something totally different,” Gavin said.

While redesigning the restaurant, Shapiro made changes that would appeal to the students at the University. The new bar will offer a variety of micro-brews on tap, which Shapiro said should stand out in Hyde Park, where many restaurants are BYOB. The pair also plans to offer live music in the future. 

Without altering the recipe for old favorites on Orly’s menu, the co-owners  changed the presentation to update the items. “I’m not saying that sizzle trumps substance,” Shapiro said, but added that eating should be also be a visual experience.