Ala Carte Entertainment grows new restaurant concepts in an old-school company
Mark Hoffmann of Barrington Hills believes Ala Carte Entertainment wouldn't exist without his father, Fred Hoffmann.
The Schaumburg-based restaurant empire spans nearly 50 years and now oversees about 1,500 employees at 24 restaurants and nightclubs, including Finn McCool's Irish Sports Pub, Chandler's Chophouse & Grille, Famous Freddie's Roadhouse, Moretti's Ristorante & Pizzeria and others. The Hoffmanns plan to open three more Moretti's in Barrington, Morton Grove and Rosemont by the end of the year. The company also oversees a special events business, real estate firm and a boat tour and party company.
It all started with The Snuggery, a chain of nightclubs founded by Fred, who is 72 and continues as president and CEO of Ala Carte.
"He always worked. He was always old school. We were very privileged to have our father as our mentor," said Mark Hoffmann, 52, vice president of Ala Carte. "He always said you could do it the wrong way, you could it the right way or you could do it his way, and two of those were the same."
Ala Carte Entertainment, also known as ACE, has been introducing unique concepts in restaurants and nightclubs, then operating them for years, and when the time came, reinventing them again. ACE's roots can be traced to 1970 when Fred Hoffmann opened the first Snuggery on North Avenue in Chicago. Since then, about a half-dozen Snuggery nightclubs pulsed the city and suburbs by introducing video and special sound and lighting to the nightclub scene. It even attracted the attention of Time Magazine, which did a story about nightclubs nationwide and included Snuggery.
At the time, Fred was a Cook County deputy sheriff and he was not allowed to be a sheriff and have a liquor license at the same time. So he left the county job and focused on building a successful nightclub chain.
By the 1980s, Fred purchased the Chicago Limelight nightclub in Chicago, refurbished it, and created the Excalibur Nightclub, a massive 50,000-square-foot nightclub that lasted 24 years. It became a hub of celebrity parties, including Michael Jordan and Prince. After that run, the nightclub was renovated again and changed into The Castle, featuring five different nightclubs under one roof. About three years later, the Hoffmanns sold The Castle to a real estate developer.
From the 1990s through now, Fred and Mark have worked together to acquire more sites, remodel them and then introduced a new concept or one of their proven brands. That included changing some Snuggery nightclubs into Moretti's or other concepts. Another Snuggery was an Alumni Club with a previous concept, where Lady GaGa performed. It was later turned into The Drink nightclub in Schaumburg, where Bruno Mars also performed.
The growing Moretti's concept came from Moretti's beer. The Hoffmanns licensed the name for the restaurants because they wanted an Italian-sounding name for their Italian food concept. They also agreed to carry the Moretti's beer at all the restaurants. But for the menu, they use the recipes from his grandfather William Hoffmann, who came from Germany.
"We wanted to capitalize on our family recipe for pizza, but we couldn't call it Hoffmann's. We needed a concept that was southern Italian and the name Hoffmann didn't quite cut it," Mark said.
With every concept that was introduced, the Hoffmanns made sure it was affordable, Mark said.
"We are constantly reinventing things that we do, from the food we serve to the entertainment to how it looks," Mark said. "People want to look forward to something new and exciting. They're more experimental with their palette and they're willing to be more adventurous and experimental today."
After, all, consumers have their pick of 27,000 restaurants in Illinois, according to the Illinois Restaurant Association. Ala Carte Entertainment is a member of the association.
"There's no question that Fred Hoffmann started the Snuggery and made it a big hit," said Sam Toia president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "And now his son Mark is running the company and he's made it a hit as well. They knew what the Baby Boomers wanted and now they know what the Millennials want."
Throughout the years, the Hoffmanns have been proud that they have not closed any of their locations. They just remodel and reopen with a new concept.
"You have to put money back into your facilities," Mark Hoffmann said. "Trends always change. People get bored with the same thing. So you need to reinvent yourself."
That reinvention can start with just minor changes to the menu to an all-out remodeling project and new concept, he said.
"There have been so many changes because of the economy and the industry, that the only constant is change," Mark said.
Although Fred doesn't spend as much time in the office anymore, and lives part of the time in Florida, he remains in regular contact with Mark about the business.
"My father is the main creative force in the company," Mark said. "He is truly an amazing man and I'm glad we can work together as a team."
The other part of the team is Mark's brother Dean, 20, who is now attending the University of Missouri to earn a degree in the hospitality industry. Dean often works in the family business during the summer breaks and is being groomed to one day take over the business, Mark said.
They hope to keep the chain of restaurants viable and keep diners coming back, he said.
"I've always aspired to follow in the footsteps of my father. There's no one like him. This business is in his DNA."
Ala Carte Entertainment Facts• Business: owns and operates restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and entertainment venues
• Founded: 1970
• Leadership: President & CEO Fred Hoffmann, Vice President Mark Hoffmann
• Headquarters: Schaumburg
• Locations: Alumni Club in Schaumburg; Chandler's Chophouse & Grille in Schaumburg; Drink nightclub in Schaumburg; Famous Freddie's Roadhouse in Fox Lake; Finn McCool's Irish Sports Pub in Crystal Lake, Mount Prospect, Schaumburg; Lion Hed Ultimate Sports Pub in Chicago; Lucky Star in Bartlett; Moretti's Ristorante & Pizzeria in Bartlett, Chicago, Fox Lake, Hoffman Estates, Lake in the Hills, Mount Prospect, Schaumburg; Snuggery in McHenry; Sweet Caroline's Bar-N-Que n Hoffman Estates; and The Apartment in Chicago.
• Employees: 1,500
• Web site: http://aceplaceschicago.com
• Facebook: @AcePlaces