Mardi Gras marks 40-year milestone at New Orleans-themed Heaven on Seven in Loop

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Fat Tuesday is just a few days away, and Mardi Gras celebrations are in high-gear down in New Orleans. But here in Chicago, the family running "Heaven on Seven" is also partying like a Cajun.

The New Orleans-themed coffee shop in the Loop has been making gumbo, etouffee and po'boys for decades, and this Mardi Gras marks a major milestone: 40 years in business.

Jimmy Bannos has always, it seems, been around food. His family bought a Jewish deli on the 7th floor of the Garland Building in the Loop in 1980, and ran the Garland Restaurant and Coffee Shop with mom Cathy always at the front, memorizing every customer's name. Bannos had just graduated from culinary school.

"Just getting out of chef's school, I started making everything from scratch. Curing my own corned beef, butchering our own meat," he said. "1983, I got Paul Prudhomme's cookbook and made a couple things from that and that's what started it."

EXTRA COURSE: A pair of desserts that have been on Heaven on Seven's menu since the early 1980's
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In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at a pair of desserts that have been on the menu at the restaurant since the early 1980's.

His affinity for all things Cajun and Creole blossomed. Here he is with dad Gus and brother George, and Prudhomme, which began a series of trips to The Big Easy.

"My wife and I went down there and that trip changed my life," he said.

Not only his life, but his kids.

Jimmy Jr. is now chef and owner of The Purple Pig. But the menu changed pretty quickly.

"We started out with red beans on Monday, which is a traditional dish, then we did gumbo once a week, then people were saying, 'Come on, we want this more often,'" said Bannos.

Then came po'boys, dressed, naturally, and overflowing with fried shrimp or roast beef or oysters. And those warm cheddar-jalapeno muffins. But hitting this milestone is bittersweet, because while his wife and kids are here, his parents, and his brother are not.

"I know they're here with me every day. I see it when I'm in the kitchen, me and my dad, me and my brother. It's very tough for me," he said.

Andouille sausage, grits and eggs are now plated by his cooks, and Bannos said he still misses being on the line every day.

"I do but I'm still creative, still making all the sauces," he said.

Bannos knows he'll see the regulars this week, but the milestone keeps everyone on their toes.

"We do a lot of different specials and we have a great time," he said.

The 40th anniversary celebration will continue all yearlong at Heaven on Seven. They're going to have live music in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, as well as some menu specials at one of the cafes that has certainly become a Chicago classic.

Heaven on Seven
111 N. Wabash Ave. #7
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