First-time restaurateur to open Italian eatery in Gurnee

After working in Italian restaurants for more than 20 years, Juan Ayala plans to open his own eatery soon in Gurnee.

Olivia's Italian Restaurant will serve pasta, chicken, fish and other Italian staples for lunch and dinner every day of the week.

Ayala said the menu isn't set yet. But the restaurant will probably offer a few steak options as well as classic appetizers such as bruschetta and fried calamari.

The plan is to open the restaurant next month at 750 S. Milwaukee Ave., between Interstate 94 and Route 120. The space has been vacant since the previous tenant, Bodega Grill & Wine Lounge, closed in 2016.

Ayala said the building's owner recently rehabbed the space, so it was already in pretty good shape when he started work there around three months ago.

  Juan Ayala plans to open an Italian restaurant in the former Bodega Grill space on Milwaukee Avenue in Gurnee. Paul Valade/

Village leaders approved Ayala's petition for a liquor license earlier this week. A Mexican American immigrant, Ayala named the restaurant after his mother, Olivia Cobian. He said she shares his love for Italian food and often cooked it for their family. Ayala said she was honored to have inspired the name.

He is hopeful his mother can make it up from Mexico for the restaurant's grand opening as she hasn't been able to visit in a year and a half because of her health.

“She can't wait for us to open,” Ayala said.

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