Joe Fiely’s path from small-town, farm life to a world of finance in Chicago to a life-changing trip to Italy, led him back to what he knows best…fresh, farm-to-table food, only this time with wine.
From his humble origins in Fort Recovery, Ohio, working at the local butchery with his family of ten, came Joe’s love of family, neighborhood, and farm-to-table food. As a teenager, Joe’s talents with numbers and studies in Finance drove him to pursue a career in Accounting.
Taking a break from corporate life, Joe traveled to Italy in 1987 during the summer’s wine harvest, where he learned to pick and crush grapes. Becoming immersed in the wine culture of Tuscany, Joe fell in love!
After a year overseas, Joe moved back to Chicago and met Rich Melman, Founder of Lettuce Entertain You, and consulted on the opening of SCOOZI. After his life-changing trip to Italy, Joe ditched his career of crunching numbers and dove into Chicago’s restaurant scene.
Then in 1992, Joe met Terry Alexander, bartender and friend of Scott Harris. Terry and Scott were working on a new restaurant concept, Mia Francesca, and asked Joe to be a part of the venture. With Scott’s dedication to rustic Italian cooking, Mia Francesca was the culmination of Joe’s experiences growing up on the farm and his time spent in Italy. Joe and Terry created the restaurant’s first all-Italian wine list, which was a bold break from the Chicago restaurant scene’s norms of upswing California wines.
Since the opening of the first Francesca’s restaurant, Joe has served as Wine Director for Francesca’s Restaurant Group, overseeing wine lists at all 6 concepts and 27 restaurants, acquiring notable titles: Court of Masters Sommeliers, Certified Sommelier (CS), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), and Certified Italian Wine Specialist. Joe continues his studies as he travels to wine regions twice a year, visiting unique vineyards and forming lasting relationships.
In 2019, the idea to put Joe’s passion and wine knowledge into one concept came to fruition, Joe’s Imports Wine Bar. Calling on those established personal relationships with vintners from around Italy and the world, Joe has curated a sundry wine list of his favorites, many of which count Joe’s Imports as their only US establishment. Similarly, he’s overseen a carefully crafted food menu that shows off the best dishes from his favorite regions, employs a farm-to-table philosophy, and, of course, pairs exceptionally well with the wines.
When Chef Scott Harris opened the doors to Mia Francesca on North Clark Street in 1992, he created a trend in the Chicago restaurant scene that has become a benchmark for urban dining. Mia Francesca, touted an immediate success by the press and patrons alike, was one of the first restaurants to encourage the lively art of dining with a contemporary, casually sophisticated trattoria ambiance. Featuring simple, rustic cooking, friendly service and fair prices, Mia Francesca won accolades from Chicago Magazine as “Critics’ Choice – Rookie of the Year.
For Harris, Mia Francesca represented both a start and a finish. A veteran of many well-known Chicago restaurant kitchens including; The 95th, Ambria, Cucina Cucina, Harry’s Café, Sole Mio, and Petthany’s in St. Croix, Mia Francesca was the culmination of his years of experience and the desire to provide Chicagoans with a new style of dining. To open Mia Francesca, Harris partnered with Michael Noone and Terry Alexander, restaurant entrepreneurs in their own right, whose subsequent successes include Streetside, Mod, and Sonotheque.
Harris has expanded his vision to form the Francesca’s Restaurant Group which operates restaurants throughout the Chicagoland area, San Diego, CA, and Raleigh, NC. His restaurant concepts include Francesca’s Restaurants, Davanti Enoteca, Fat Rosie’s Taco and Tequila Bar, Disotto, and now, Joe’s Imports, acquiring the namesake of Joe Fiely, one of his original partners of Mia Francesca. “ It brings me great pleasure to partner with him on his vision for Joe’s Imports. I look forward to guests experiencing Joe’s vast wine knowledge which is only surpassed by his warm and genuine hospitality. When you meet Joe you’ll quickly figure out why he’s fondly known as “Smiley Joe Fiely”—Harris says.
His managerial philosophy of building working partnerships with Chefs and other restaurants professionals, not just obtaining financial backers, has had a direct influence on the success of his restaurants. “We have really created a Family of Restaurants. Everyone has a vested interest in the restaurant’s success,” Harris notes.
Leading a kitchen wasn’t Chef Tom Schmitt’s first aspiration, as he was initially drawn to architecture; however, after the recession set the architecture and design industry in a tailspin, Schmitt reevaluated his passions and dove knife first into this culinary career.
A third-generation son and oldest of two siblings, Chef Schmitt began his culinary career in his home state of Missouri, before moving to Chicago to truly embed himself into the industry in 2010. Working his way up from line cook to Sous Chef, to executive chef at Julius Meinl, Chef Schmitt then took his talents to Frontier, where he was mentored by Chef Brian Jupiter, and was taught how to butcher and break down full animals – from standard pigs, to more exotic animals such as alligators, goats, lambs etc. – tableside. Following his time at Frontier, Schmitt moved to Hogsalt, where he opened Green Street Smoked Meats and developed one of the city’s favorite BBQ menus – recipes which are still being used at the popular restaurant today.
Chef Schmitt then worked under Chef Mark Spaciano at Prosecco, as executive sous chef, while simultaneously working as a butcher at Publican Quality Meats, before Chef Spaciano moved Schmitt to Austin to open Sophia’s – which won best new restaurant in Austin and was nominated for a James Beard award in its first year. Following his success in Austin, Chef Schmitt connected with Francesca’s Restaurant Group, and earned the title of Chef de Cuisine for the iconic restaurant group’s newest concept, Joe’s imports Wine Bar.
At Joe’s Imports, Chef Schmitt marries his love of BBQ and butchering, with Mediterranean cuisine – an unlikely combination that delights guests each visit. Honing his skills and creative flare, Chef Schmitt leads the menu design at Joe’s Imports with popular dishes such as Nonna’s Chicken, Sticky Ribs, Pate Negra Meatball to name a few.
Each dish is carefully concepted alongside Joe’s Imports partner, Joe Fiely, to align with the integrity of the restaurant’s impressive wine menu. Chef Schmitt ensures that every bite of food is complimented with an appropriate wine pairing for an optimal guest experience.
When he’s not in the kitchen, Chef Schmitt is still in the kitchen, as he loves to perfect his BBQ recipes and grilling techniques. Weather permitting, Chef Schmitt also enjoys exploring on foot Chicago with his canine companion.