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If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the 1996 film “Big Night,” you definitely need to, and if you have, yes, it is the inspiration for this new segment in The Mark Wine News.

Set on the New Jersey Shore in the 1950’s, the highly acclaimed film was nominated for the “Grand Jury Prize” at the Sundance Film Festival and stars Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two Italian immigrant brothers from Abruzzo who own and operate a restaurant called “Paradise.” Unfortunately, the restaurant is failing to gain recognition or success. A fellow restaurateur offers to help them by getting a famous Italian-American singer to come dine at their restaurant in order to help the brothers revitalize their business and keep it afloat. To prepare for the “Big Night” the brothers spend their entire savings on food and wine for a magnificent feast.

Our “Big Night” will highlight Italian restaurants in this new Q & A segment starting with Maggiano’s Little Italy. I talked with Cami Lehmann, Maggiano’s Director of Marketing about everything from their history to their wine program to how they have responded to the challenges of Covid.

The Mark Wine Group

So, tell me, what makes Maggiano’s Little Italy stand out from the rest?

Cami Lehmann

Maggiano’s has built a culture that clearly outlines the Passion, Dream and Purpose for the concept.

The foundation of this culture is guided by seven principles – hospitality, respect, excellence, fairness, inclusion, fun and courage.

We strive every day to deliver incomparable experiences based upon these principles to our stakeholders, whether it be Teammates, Guests, Supplier Partners, Community or Brinker.

The Mark Wine Group

What’s your favorite part of the Maggiano’s story?

Cami Lehmann

Maggiano’s Little Italy opened the doors of its first location on the corners of Clark Street and Grand Avenue in Chicago, Illinois on November 11, 1991.

The restaurant was successful from the very start and has since grown to be a thirty-year old concept with 52 locations across the country.

My favorite part is that although each Maggiano’s is different in terms of prototype, location, team – the Maggiano’s heart and soul is expressed across them all through the food & drink and experience.

Clark Street and Grand Avenue in Chicago, Illinois

The Mark Wine Group

Which brings us to this very critical question; How important is wine to the Maggiano’s concept?

Cami Lehmann

“Food and wine you’ll love” is a promise that we make to our guests. Our wines are selected to match perfectly with our chef-prepared food, served by the glass or by the bottle and priced to be a value.

Wine has been a part of the Maggiano’s heritage ever since we opened on Clark & Grand.

So yeah, I would say wine is pretty important to us!

The Mark Wine Group

We love to hear that as we are all about wine. Wondering how you find the right wines for your wine list?

Cami Lehmann

There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right wines for our wine list. It’s important to me to bring data to the strategy, starting with evaluating sales and learning preference for both on and off-premise wine purchases at Maggiano’s.

Variety is also key – and not just variety of the types, tastes, regions of wine we offer but also the price points. We want to ensure that every guest is satisfied with our offerings and can find something they will enjoy.

And even with all that, the wine list is something that must be constantly evaluated as trends and purchase behaviors can and do change.

The Mark Wine Group

Change is good. What are some of your favorite food & wine pairings right now?

Cami Lehmann

I like to start with a glass of Rosé, and this goes great with the Bombalina platter (all of our favorite Maggiano’s appetizers in one).

California Cabernet Sauvignon is my absolute favorite varietal and it complements many of our food offerings, especially Mom’s Lasagna and Beef Medallions.

You also can’t go wrong with a little bubbly and Vera’s Lemon Cookies.

The Bombalina Platter

The Mark Wine Group

You had me at Bombalina and Rosé. How do you share your excitement?  How do you get your staff engaged in your wine program?

Cami Lehmann

Maggiano’s teammates go through an extensive wine service and wine knowledge training prior to ever serving a table.

We encourage teammates to taste all of our wines so that they can accurately describe and recommend wines to guests.

We also provide tasting and pairing notes for new wines introduced to the menu.

The Mark Wine Group

And how do you get your customers engaged in your wine program?

Cami Lehmann

Our teammates know the menu, teach our guests how to use it, describe features for the day and recommend wines that suit the guest’s tastes and enhance their meal.

We invite guests to try anything they want to (including all wines by the glass) – risk free.

We also offer a variety of ways to enjoy wine, whether it be by the bottle or glass available in a six or nine ounce pour.

We recommend Juggernaut Hillside Cabernet pouring by the glass at all Maggiano's locations

The Mark Wine Group

Love pour options. And your risk-free wine tastes are pretty cool. Definitely speaks to your culture. How important is authenticity to Maggiano’s and to your customers?

Cami Lehmann

Our service philosophy is “Be authentic, warm, and indulgent, provide an effortless guest experience, and show sincere appreciation.”

Making people feel special is our passion, so we believe in real food and drink delivered by people working for a better world.

Our authenticity shows in the fresh chef prepared food in our kitchens, the wines we pour in the bar and the amazing service you will receive time after time at Maggiano’s.

The Mark Wine Group

Guessing Covid has affected this. How has Maggiano’s adapted to Covid-19?

Cami Lehmann

Maggiano’s first priority is the health and safety of our teammates and guests and we are committed to providing a safe experience whether in our restaurants or off-premise.

We’ve taken precautions including enhanced cleaning, rigorous handwashing, requiring teammates to wear face masks at all time, social distancing standards, providing disposable menus and monitoring teammate health.

In this rapidly changing environment, Maggiano’s has continued to execute best in class operations whether it be entirely off-premise, limited capacities indoor and/or outdoor, private dining or banquet events according to local restrictions and following official guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO).

Maggiano’s has always been considered a trusted brand with our guests, and in this new world, guests are looking to a place of comfort and reliability.

With our new safety and health standards in place, this only enhances the experience that we strive to provide of making sure every guest feels special.

The Mark Wine Group

Has Covid-19 affected your wine program?

Cami Lehmann

COVID-19 has definitely affected the wine program as we quickly transitioned into selling wine off-premise where allowed.

We currently offer bottles of wine to-go, and the best part is that guests can make their wine order online.

We are also offering select bottles of wine at a competitive price point when you pair with our special carryout meal packages for holidays such as Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving.

The Mark Wine Group

If you had to describe Maggiano’s Little Italy in one word or phrase what would it be?

Cami Lehmann

I think our goal for guests describes it best, to think of Maggiano’s as “a wonderful place for food, drink and memorable times with family and friends.”

Lisa Gmur, CSW
The Mark Wine Group
“Ambassador of Buzz” – PR & Communications