There’s No Place like Home

A third-generation restauranteur brings a proven concept to Barrington

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story by Melanie Kalmar | photography by Linda M. Barrett Productions

Mark and Jessica Hoffman

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For the past 26 years, dishes spanning over three generations in Mark Hoffmann’s family have found a place on the menu at Moretti’s Ristorante and Pizzeria locations in Edison Park and the Northwest Suburbs. The restaurant chain feeds about 50,000 customers a week. Many staples on the menu are the recipes that Mark’s Grandfather William—a European trained chef—brought with him to America from Germany. Moretti’s tagline, “Let our family serve your family,” is a testament to living the brand.

Come fall, when Moretti’s opens at 128 Wool Street in Barrington, its 10th location in the chain, residents won’t have to travel far for the mix of Italian and American fare—Chicago style pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, brick oven fired chicken, gourmet salads and burgers—that has kept customers coming back for decades.

Along with a chef-driven menu, the Barrington Moretti’s will feature four private party rooms accommodating up to 150 people and two brand new outdoor dining spaces. In addition to catering any size event in the Barrington area, the new Moretti’s will also offer its popular carryout and delivery service as well. The Hoffmanns won’t have to travel far for work either, as they live in Barrington Hills. “It takes a lot of time and effort to build a brand and a location,” Mark says. “We are very excited about the opportunity to invest in our community.”

Moretti’s latest endeavor is proof that the business Mark oversees with his father Fred, Ala Carte Entertainment (A.C.E.), continues on its path of growth. Moretti’s is a restaurant concept created by A.C.E., a Schaumburg-based company that develops, owns and manages restaurants, banquet facilities, pubs, nightclubs and entertainment venues. It has 25 locations under more than a dozen different concepts, such as The Alumni Club, Chandler’s, drink, and Lion Head Ultimate Sports Pub. A.C.E. has been in existence for nearly 50 years and in the Hoffmann family for three generations. A diverse business, A.C.E. also owns Hoffmann Alpha Omega Development Group, a commercial real estate division that specializes in larger commercial project development.

Mark and Jessica Hoffmann with their children (from left) Natalie, Jacqueline, and Olivia Hoffmann.

A family tradition

Mark’s grandparents owned “The Talk of the Town, a casual American restaurant in Maywood where Fred got his start in the business watching, working, and learning from his parents. Yet, he didn’t head directly into the hospitality industry. He took a detour, working first for the railroad and then as a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy before launching the Snuggery in 1970, the nightclub that started it all. More locations and concepts followed, including Excalibur, a Chicago nightclub for 24 years that attracted a celebrity clientele. The Bulls held championship parties there and Prince often hung out in the VIP room. “My father had a pool table with purple felt made for him,” Mark says. “He gave it to us, but we had to bring it back to Excalibur when Prince was in town.” Since the Hoffmanns own the land, A.C.E has always had the ability to reinvent its concepts and continue to evolve as a company, through industry changes.

Humble beginnings

By age 12, Mark started to work in the family’s business, cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, and busing tables. “I rotated through every position in the kitchen, working in every area in the back of the house before making it to the front,” says Mark, 53. “I was a cog in the wheel of the big picture.” Occasionally, he took Tuesdays off from school to help his father with deliveries. “In a family business, everyone pitches in and does what they can,” he says.

The start of something big

Mark attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for two and a half years before his father asked him to come back to work. “The business was in a major growth phase and he needed help,” Mark says. “I always knew what I was going to do career-wise. I’ve never done anything but work in my family business. I was proud to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

Today A.C.E. has almost 2,000 employees on its staff. “There are employees who have been on board for 30 and 40 years,” Mark says. “Everyone in our company has grown as we’ve grown. We bring everyone up from within. My father always told me, ‘You have to give somebody the ability to grow. Otherwise they will outgrow our company’”.

Establishing roots in Barrington

Fred was the first in the family to move to Barrington Hills 18 years ago. He told his next-door neighbors, on either side of his house, that if they ever decide to move, he would purchase their homes. Eventually, he did, with the intent of giving his children the opportunity to buy the properties someday and raise their families close by. So far, his dream has come true. Mark and Jessica have lived next door to Fred for 14 years. The other house is being renovated in the hope that Fred’s other son Dean, a 21-year-old college student, will move in someday and raise a family there, too. “It’s a family compound,” Mark says. Their sister Amber also lives in the village, keeping the whole family close.

Mark and his wife, Jessica, were married 14 years ago on the 20-acre property where llamas, alpacas, and African goats roam freely. The couple enjoys their tranquil, country setting and loves watching their girls Jacquelyn, 10; Natalie, 7; and Olivia, 5, get close to nature, fishing, and catching frogs in the two-acre lake outside their home.

A chance meeting

While working at the Chicago Reader, Jessica also worked part-time at the Lion Head Pub, an A.C.E. concept, when she met Mark while serving cocktails at his birthday party. After one month of dating, she thought, “I have to decide, am I going to work for this guy, or date him?” She quit. The couple became engaged a year later and married on the home’s property.

More than 400 guests gathered under two tents, one for the ceremony and one for the reception, at the Hoffmann family’s 20-acre compound. The late blues singer KoKo Taylor performed and the band “Gentleman of Leisure” kept everyone dancing. The party went on for so long that it was broken up by the police before the DJ had a chance to play a full set.

“We planned our wedding and renovated the house at the same time,” Jessica says. It was “a construction zone” when Mark carried her over the threshold but storybook romantic nonetheless. They officially moved in a month later. Since then, their home has become the gathering place for celebrations with friends and family.

A presence in the community, Mark and Jessica serve on the board of directors for Barrington Children’s Charities and enjoy volunteering their time to the many organizations it supports. Jessica is also an active member of Countryside Elementary School’s PTO and Mark coaches their daughters’ T-ball and basketball teams. In the summertime, the family likes to visit the farmers market and check out the vintage cars and hot rods on Thursdays during Barrington’s Cruise Nights. Jessica also helps out with the business, working on property management, special events, and fundraising in Barrington.

Left: Moretti’s homemade meatballs and spaghetti with a side of garlic bread with marinara sauce. Right: The new Moretti’s flagship restaurant will open in Barrington in the fall. On both southern corners of the building there will be open air seating on two levels, and the lower level windows are for the private party rooms.

Coming home

Moretti’s will come full-circle when it opens in the Hoffmann’s hometown this fall, Mark says. “We love being a third-generation part of the community. Hopefully, someday our kids will work and live here.” But the couple emphasizes there is no pressure. They want their daughters to do whatever makes them happy.

In February, Mark introduced his father at the Palmer House, where he was being honored as an industry leader by the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame and brought top employees with him. “He didn’t take one ounce of credit,” Mark says. “In his speech he gave all of us credit and acknowledged that was why he was there.” It goes back to the lesson his father taught him early in his career. “Treat everyone with respect and never take credit for anything. You don’t need credit. Give everyone a sense of ownership and pride. Lead by example.”

Father to son, Fred’s advice has always been, “Keep your life simple and you’ll enjoy it much more.” Glancing out the window of his family room, overlooking the tranquil lake, Mark spots a red cardinal and interrupts the interview to point it out to Jessica. In that moment, it’s obvious, he listened.

Ala Carte Entertainment is located at 2330 Hammond Drive in Schaumburg. For more information, visit www.AcePlaces.com or call Jim Earley at 847-303-4425.

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Melanie Kalmar is a freelance writer specializing in business and human interest features. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family.