This week, Laura and Sara are joined by Martin Cournane of Munster Restaurant Group. Martin is the co-owner of Lady Gregory’s and Octavio Cantina and Kitchen in Andersonville, as well as LG’s Bar in Old Town and Wilde in Lakeview. Lady Gregory’s, an Irish Gastro Pub located at 5260 N. Clark, serves up a delicious menu and proudly boasts over 300 whiskeys. Located just up the street at 5310 N. Clark, Octavio is a love letter to Mexico and serves modern Mexican food from the heart.
“Dream big, don’t give up, and start with your heart”
– Martin Cournane
Listen to Episode 48 with Martin Cournane!
- Martin hails from Ireland. Having traveled over in 1994, he was one in a late wave of immigrants travelling to America. He came to Chicago with a bag and some money, and slept on a friend’s couch for his first few months in the area.
- He started working in restaurants when he was sixteen years old and has done everything from dishwashing to bartending. Martin’s first Chicago job was Kitty O’ Sheas in the Palmer House Hilton; since then he has worked in a variety of hotels and Irish bars. He also worked as a General Manager at The Kerryman. In this position he made decisions about the menu, chose staff uniforms, and helped put the restaurant together. He learned a great deal about what makes a good restaurant; this was a huge stepping stone to open his own business.
- In 2006, Martin started Munster Restaurant Group (MRG) and their first location – Wilde Bar and Restaurant – opened the same year. His business partner worked in construction, and they worked together to create original designs for each restaurant they opened. While working on Wilde, Martin learned a great deal about working with the city and having a flexible timeline.
- Five years later, MRC opened up Lady Gregory’s in Andersonville. Being a constant patron and resident in Andersonville, Martin says that he was always hoping to open something up in the area. Becoming a part of the fabric of the neighborhood was an exciting experience.
- However, six weeks before they were supposed to open, there was a fire. This was a devastating shock; thankfully there was no structural damage. This did set them back a few weeks, and they opened on the Friday of Andersonville Midsommarfest in June 2011.
- Martin and MRG name their restaurants after authors, and Lady Gregory’s is no exception. Isabella Augusta (a.k.a. Lady Gregory) was an Irish theatre manager and playwright specialising in drama and folklore. She also produced several books retelling stories from Irish mythology in common terms. Martin compares her to a woman running a pub in old Ireland: tough, and not to be trifled with. Lady Gregory also inspired several other Irish writers like W.B. Yeats and James Joyce.
- MRG’s fourth and most recent restaurant, Octavio Cantina and Kitchen, is named after poet and activist Octavio Paz. In the back of the restaurant there is a portrait of him by local artist and LG’s bartender Cecilio Garcia. The map mural on the wall is by another local artist, Chris Silva.
- Octavio was a big step away from Martin’s usual repertoire – he had to learn to create an entirely different menu and a fresh, new atmosphere. The result is a beautiful, open concept restaurant with excellent natural light and a homey, welcoming feeling.
- Four restaurants later, Martin is still passionate about what he does. The advice that he wants to give to young entrepreneurs is to start with your heart – ask yourself what you love, and work from there. If you’re passionate about something, the rest will follow.
- If Martin had the opportunity to trade places with any Andersonville business for a day, he would choose Lost Larson (5318 N Clark St) because of the obvious passion they have for their work and the delicious pastries.