A new Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant opened Monday at Westfield Hawthorn shopping center in Vernon Hills as part of a $50 million mall makeover and expansion.
About 150 people -- including restaurant staff members, local business people and politicians -- gathered outside the entrance on the south side of the mall for the ceremonial cutting of a 10-foot braided pasta marking the chain's sixth location in the Chicago area and 47th nationwide.
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The Vernon Hills restaurant seats 300 and employs 150. The Hawthorn mall site is the fourth in which Maggiano's has paired with Westfield. Others are at Old Orchard in Skokie, as well as in Woodland Hills, California, and Annapolis, Maryland.
"They said they had plans to upgrade (in Vernon Hills) and we wanted to be part of it," Maggiano's president Steve Provost said before the ceremony. "This mall opened in 1971. It's been through a lot, It's rebuilding and revitalizing."
He estimated the Vernon Hills investment at about $4 million. Maggiano's is the third notable opening this year at the mall, located at Routes 21 and 60, following a new Dave & Buster's restaurant/arcade and a Smashburger restaurant. More restaurants are expected, and a 1,200-seat AMC theater is scheduled to open in spring.
"Maggiano's has been on our most-requested list of restaurants for many years," said Westfield Hawthorn general manager Michael Golden. "This (mall) development has really started to take shape."
Other changes include an improved food court scheduled to open next month and a new children's play area coming this fall. The main mall entries have been or are in the process of being rebuilt, and new signage is planned.
Maggiano's in Vernon Hills will be similar to other locations and will sport the familiar checkered tablecloths and large portions. It will be the first in Chicago to offer a "Lighter Take" menu in which traditional dishes will be prepared with at least a third fewer calories.
"It's still chicken Parmesan but prepared in a way you get significantly less calories," said Larry Konecny, director of Maggiano's west region.
Village officials have been pushing for mall upgrades for a long time.
"It's been a great restaurant chain for years," said Vernon Hills Mayor Roger Byrne.
"This whole mall is in the process of being renovated. We started negotiations with Westfield about 10 years ago and it's finally coming to fruition."
That's key for Vernon Hills, which doesn't have a property tax and relies on sales tax from its vast commercial area. The village has an agreement with Westfield that could provide up to $13 million in sales tax rebates.
Village and mall officials have said the mall work is intended to revitalize the aging center and make it a destination for entertainment, dining and shopping.