Husband and wife, Gregory and Tiffany Perkins, are the owners of Tavern on LaGrange, located in Countryside, IL. Their goal is to provide the best dining and bar experience. With live entertainment seven days a week, Tavern on LaGrange has had artists on stage such as CeCe Peniston, Devon Brown, and After 7. Entertainment at Tavern on LaGrange is like no other.
Tammy Gibson: What inspired you to get into the restaurant industry?
Gregory and Tiffany Perkins: The concept of Tavern on LaGrange was born through my wife and I enjoying dinner parties at our house on Sundays. We would entertain our guests with live music, drinks, and food. Over a few years, everyone who attended our dinner parties told us we should open a restaurant. My primary business was in real estate, and my wife’s background was in the medical field. Tiffany has been a registered nurse for 11 years. So this was an opportunity to do something together as a husband-and-wife team.
TG: How has your restaurant fared during the pandemic?
GP/TP: Tavern on LaGrange opened on February 29, 2020, three weeks before the pandemic. When we closed, we didn’t know what to do at that point. We had just bought the restaurant and come up with the concept for the place. Because of the pandemic and not having any carry-out business, my wife and I decided to do a little redecorating. We put in a stage for the music and pictures of celebrities from the 1920s to the present. We created a menu and started doing carry out.
My concept was that we would give customers more food than they wouldn’t expect. People loved the food, and we gained a lot of popularity during the shutdown. Once we were able to re-open in June 2020, business skyrocketed. We were not prepared for it, nor were we expecting it. We got a lot of support from the black community and Countryside, LaGrange, Indian Head Park, and Hodgkins. We decided to add music to the restaurant on Thursday and Friday nights. More people started to come, so we expanded the music to seven days a week. We would have jazz, salsa, reggae, blues, and R&B. Every night was something different.
The pandemic initially hurt us, but we did everything we could to continue to pay our employees, although we weren’t making very much money. We kept all of our staff. We didn’t lay anybody off, so it allowed us to form a bond with our employees. It’s been a blessing that since June 2020, we have been busy.
TG: Do you feel there is an underrepresentation of African Americans in the restaurant industry?
GP/TP: If you look at communities across Chicago and the State of Illinois, you most likely will find black restaurants located in black neighborhoods. You are not going to see black restaurants outside the black community, except for maybe downtown Chicago. Black restaurant owners are under-represented, and most of the time, it’s because of a lack of capital. We can’t find the funding that is necessary from banks. So a lot of black businesses have to start small and grow. If a business can’t survive the first two years, typically, the business will dissolve. But, once we start to use our money in the black community, black businesses will become capitalized.
TG: What has been the most challenging and rewarding part of owning a restaurant?
GP/TP: The challenging part is we spend a lot of time at the Tavern. We don’t spend as much time with our children. We have seven children, two in college and five at home. Unfortunately, since we started the restaurant, our younger children don’t spend as much time with them as we would like to. That’s the most challenging part for us as parents. The most rewarding experience is seeing the look on our customers’ faces when they dine at our restaurant and their gratitude when they acknowledge how great the experience was. We are trying to represent our community in the best way possible, giving our community something they can be proud of and having a place they can call home. I love food and cooking. My wife spends 8-11 hours a night working behind the bar because she likes making drinks. The rewarding part is we are doing something that we love to do, and that speaks volumes.
TG: What makes Tavern on LaGrange different from other restaurants?
GP/TP: My wife and I are personable people. We try to make sure that every customer has an experience that is like no other. At most restaurants, the management fills in and does a lot of the heavy lifting. We find it more personable when we go to a customer’s table to find out it’s someone’s birthday or wedding anniversary and they came out to celebrate with us. We give out free birthday and anniversary cakes. Sometimes we give out free bottles of champagne. Those little personable touches go a long way with our customers.
We had a customer come to our restaurant, and it was their daughter’s 11th birthday. It was open mic night, and her dad sang a song to her on stage. We came out with a birthday cake and gave her $100.00. The daughter had tears rolling down her face. We had a young man who graduated from high school and was on his way to college. He came to our restaurant to celebrate his graduation. We gave the young man $500.00 to let him know we were proud of his success with an HBCU. Those little gestures drive us beyond other restaurants.
The quality of our food makes us different from other restaurants. We don’t use frozen food. We cook everything fresh. We don’t compromise on quality or quantity because we are trying to save on cost. If we are not going to eat it, we will not serve it to anyone else. We want to bring a quality product to our community and something our children can be proud of.
TG: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to own a restaurant?
GP/TP: My advice would be to do it because it’s a passion. If you do it and it’s not a passion, it creates a job for yourself. I don’t look at being an owner at Tavern on LaGrange as a job. I look at it as something that I love to do. I look forward to creating new dishes, new entertainment, and my wife creating new drinks. Don’t go into a business if your focus is only making money. Go into a business because it’s something you love to do. Once you are doing something that you love to do, the money will come.
Tavern on LaGrange is located at 5403 S. LaGrange, Countryside, IL. For more information, go to https://tavernonlagrange.com/.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelHr