Heaven On Seven Celebrates 40 Years, Goes Big For Mardi Gras

Shannon Blum
February 18, 2020 - 2:02 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – A New Orleans-style restaurant in Chicago is celebrating a major milestone this month.

Heaven on Seven celebrated 40 years on Feb. 4, and to toast to the milestone, the restaurant has a big Mardi Gras celebration planned…if you can find them.

That’s right, if you can find them. Ride the elevator up to the seventh floor of the historic Garland building, located at 111 N. Wabash, and be transported to New Orleans.

But before we get into all the excitement surrounding Mardi Gras, including some shared surprises, we must start at the very beginning…

“First of all, if you have never been here, we just celebrated our 40th anniversary, so you got to get here!” said chef/owner Jimmy Bannos.

Heaven On Seven
WBBM Newsradio/Shannon Blum

Third-generation restaurateurs, Jimmy and George Bannos were born and raised in the restaurant business. Both sets of grandparents owned restaurants, so it followed that their parents would enter the business. From the time they were boys, the Bannos brothers helped out in their parent's restaurant - bussing tables, washing dishes, and greeting regulars. In 1980, with Jimmy fresh out of cooking school, the Bannos family opened its concept of a “neighborhood restaurant in the middle of the Loop.” On the seventh floor of the Garland Building, the “New Garland Coffee Shop” was born.

“It was my dad and myself in the kitchen, my brother and my mom in the front of the house and it was a really non-descript coffee shop/Jewish deli,” Bannos said.

In 1984, Jimmy began experimenting with Louisiana recipes.

“I was working seven days a week. We were open six, but I would be working seven days a week,” Bannos said. “I have a cookbook collection of over 1,500 different cookbooks – so I would get cookbooks, magazines, newspapers and there was no internet back then, so I got Paul Prudhomme's cookbook and he owned K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, and I made a couple things from that book and people went crazy for it.

“So I cold called him…and he called me up the next day. We had over an hour conversation over the phone, he said you have to come down here, and me and my wife made plans and we ended up going down a couple months later, and that trip changed my life,” Bannos said.

So in 1985, what started as a nondescript coffee shop in an office building, grew into “kind of a New Orleans mecca and southern mecca of food,” Bannos said, with everything Cajun and Creole. It was then Heaven on Seven was born.

Heaven On Seven
WBBM Newsradio/Shannon Blum

The restaurant was “aptly named to identify its seventh floor location and to describe the heavenly clouds of steam wafting from Jimmy's scrumptious gumbo,” according to the site, and Jimmy's goal was then and is now for Heaven on Seven to be the best Louisiana-style restaurant outside of New Orleans.

“Heaven on Seven is kind of my neighborhood restaurant, in the middle of the city, but with New Orleans style. You are walking into New Orleans, which is pretty awesome to me,” Bannos said.

And 40 years later, Bannos is still serving up his favorites.

“We started out with chicken andouille sausage gumbo, which I have to say, that is my favorite,” Bannos said. “Then we have red beans on Mondays. Red Bean Monday is a tradition in New Orleans. And then, I would say my New Orleans barbeque shrimp on grits – anything on grits, and I will say it, we make the best grits in the whole country. It’s Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese grits. They are really soft and fluffy and just the taste of the parmesan in it is so good. I put New Orleans barbeque shrimp on that. I have a whole section of the menu, just on top of grits...

“We have over 20 different po’ boys on our menu. And we just actually started once a week doing Jimmy’s Po’ Boy Shop, a pop-up inside the restaurant, to-go only,” Bannos said.

The shop was created to get people prepared for Mardi Gras. Jimmy’s Po’ Boy Shop is modeled after the classic New Orleans Po’ Boy Shops, where orders are only available in person at the counter. The pop-up shop is only offered during lunch hours on Tuesdays leading up to Fat Tuesday.

Heaven On Seven po' boy
WBBM Newsradio/Shannon Blum

Then to truly celebrate Mardi Gras, Heaven on Seven has three days of merriment planned.

The Mardi Gras jubilee kicks off Friday, Feb. 21 and continues Saturday. There will be live music, as well as food and drink specials, all-out decorations, and more! Arcana will perform on Friday and Dibs Quintet Brass Band will perform on Saturday.

The party culminates on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 25 with an all-out celebration. Heaven on Seven will have special hours on Tuesday, with lunch from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Big Shoulders Brass Band will perform Tuesday night.

“Specials, I usually like to surprise everybody. We are doing a crab, on crab, on crab, which is a crab cake, with a soft-shelled crab on top of that, and then sautéed crab lump meat on top of that and then with a New Orleans barbeque sauce – it’s going to be great. And then we are doing a braised beef shank on parmesan grits with an andouille sausage and chipley balsamic glazed cipollini onions on top of that – it’s going to be good.”

But those are only some. Jimmy did not want to share all of his surprises! There will also be a variety of drink specials, including everybody’s go-to – Hurricanes. All the drinks were created by Bannos’ niece Alexis.

So what is next for chef/owner Jimmy Bannos?

“Probably after Mardi Gras, a two-hour massage on Wednesday and then I think I will be right,” Bannos joked. “But just, you know, working, still making this place better. I help my son at our other restaurant, the Purple Pig. And then we will see what happens.”

Will Heaven on Seven be around for another 40 years?

“I will be 102, so I think I can still…I might have my walker, but I think I will be able to make it,” Bannos laughed. “But you know, who knows, we have a lot of family members involved in the business, also too. And then my other restaurant, the Purple Pig with my son, so you never know what’s going to happen...

“We just celebrated 40 years. It’s great to see people who have not been here ever and then they come in and they are like, ‘oh my God’ and then they make it their place. So that is exciting for me and we have a whole new generation of people coming in.”

Bannos not only sees people come back year after year, but some customers return week after week.