The Francesca's Italian restaurants throughout the Chicago area are a unique dining experience that has a neat background story to them. They're sort of a chain, but their not.
The original Francesca's - Mia Francesca - was started in the early 90's by Scott Harris, who was an up and coming chef in his own right. He'd worked at such restaurants including The Signature Room on the 95th on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Tower, Harry's Cafe and Sole Mio. Scott partnered with two other individuals to open Mia Francesca in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
Since then, Scott and other chefs have opened other Francesca's throughout the Chicagoland area. Scott and his partners maintain a 51% stake in the other restaurants, and the other 49% is owned by the chef of those particular restaurants. It gives each Francesca's a different taste and feel than the others.
I've eaten at Francesca's Amici in downtown Elmhurst, and Francesca's Campagna in West Dundee. Both are outstanding. The restaurants are cozy and relaxed, there is no pretentious atmosphere in the restaurants (something Scott Harris has tried to do with each location), and each restaurant has a little bit of the others in it, but the menus vary from place to place.
There are up to 16 Francesca's restaurants through the Chicagoland area with a new one to open in the far north suburbs in 2006. I like the concept. The chefs have enough of a financial stake in their individual restaurants to give them their own signature and to work hard to make a go of it. What a great opportunity Scott Harris has given a lot of very good young chefs.
If the 14 other Francesca's are as good as the one's in West Dundee and Elmhurst, then I have to rethink my stance on chains. But, then again, they really AREN'T chains, but maybe more of a franchise. But they aren't really franchises either. It's more like a family of restaurants. A neat concept, if you ask me.
Just go to any Francesca's. You won't be disappointed.