A Former ‘Big Brother’ TV Star Is Making His Restaurant Dreams a Reality

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A reality TV star is bringing a new bar and restaurant specializing in Southern coastal cuisine and cocktails to River North.

Lady May should open in February at 405 N. Wabash Avenue from Memphis Garrett, runner-up on Season 10 of CBS mega-hit Big Brother and CEO of Garrett Hospitality Group. The River North resturant is expected to be the first of a series of restaurants around the country from Garrett. A follow-up location is slated to open next year in the company’s hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“I grew up all over the South — born in Kentucky on the Bourbon Trail, the son of a bartender,” Garrett says. “The vibe of the place is going to be that, ‘yes ma’am, yes sir’ ode to Southern charm with blooming magnolias and everything. That’s what we want to encompass, and how I grew up.”

The tale of Lady May is steeped in Southern nostalgia.
Lady May

Designed around the story of the mysterious Southern belle, Lady May will draw on the waterfront regions such as New Orleans, South Florida; Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Austin Blake, the group’s Florida-born executive chef, will relocate to Chicago to lead the restaurant’s culinary team. He’ll seek to buck the stereotype of heavy Southern fare with a menu that is both nostalgic and light enough that patrons will hang around for more drinks and fun, says Garrett.

Blake and his team are considering offerings like Fool’s Gold (Carolina Gold middlins with saffron aioli and pimento cheese), fried-green tomatoes with lardon and remoulade, and blackened mahi-mahi with black bean succotash and fermented okra. They’re also contemplating a raw bar with oysters on the half-shell and peel-and-eat shrimp cocktails. Garrett also promises drink options like a beer and oyster shooter with fermented hot sauce made onsite, rum-spiked Spanish coffee, and Baiju Tea with white rum, Lillet Rose, and ginger lavender.

Despite the distinct difference in climate, Garrett says he’s excited to split his time between Florida and Chicago. He previously opened nearly 40 restaurants during his 12-year tenure as director of openings and operations at Los Angeles-based hospitality brand SBE Entertainment Group. He’s eager to make a good first impression on Chicago’s hospitality industry.

“I consider Chicago the culinary capital of the world — the food and service are the best,” he says. “For me, it was always on the list to do something special… I don’t think opening in February is probably the best idea in Chicago, but it’s an opportunity to iron out the kinks and see that season turn.”

Many design details of the 1,600-square-foot space remain under wraps, Garrett says it will eventually include an indoor-outdoor greenhouse-style gazebo that seats 45 and will be filled with leafy foliage. He hopes that construction on the space will be complete by the end of the summer. Lady May will share the building with a new location of omakase restaurant Sushi | Bar, which operates popular and well-regarded locations in Austin, Texas, and Miami Beach, Florida. Another outpost is slated to open in Dallas.

Lady May Chicago, 405 N. Wabash Avenue, scheduled to open in February.

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