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Why Mr. Beef Isn’t Taking Advantage of Its Connections to Hit Show ‘The Bear’

As season 2 of the hit show The Bear premieres, the owner of the Chicago Italian beef sandwich shop that inspired it discusses how the series' success has impacted his family business.

Mr. Beef in Chicago, an inspiration for the hit FX show The Bear. Photo: “Mr. Beef” by eekim is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Mr. Beef helped Inspire one of 2022’s breakout TV hits, The Bear, which returns for a much-anticipated second season tomorrow, Thursday, June 22. But while the Chicago Italian beef sandwich shop’s connection to the show has made it a popular destination for locals and tourists, its owner, Christopher Zucchero, tells Appetito that his family has never jacked up prices to cash in on its fame. And they aren’t about to start.

“We’ve stayed at $8 for the past, I don’t know, six years,” Zucchero says. “I am not a greedy person. I would never be like, Oh, we're on The Bear, now the beef sandwich is $13.” 

Zucchero’s father Joseph built Mr. Beef on Orleans into a Chicago institution before passing away in March, at age 69. His version of the Italian beef sandwich—slow-cooked, thinly sliced beef served with Chicago’s favorite Sicily-inspired spicy peppers condiment, giardiniera, on a roll—became a standout in a city filled with Italian beef stands. This, and the fact that The Bear modeled its set on Mr. Beef, made the elder Zucchero such a well-known figure that major media organizations such as The New York Times and NPR ran news of his passing. 

Now, Mr. Beef’s continuation relies on his 42-year-old son, Christopher, whose connection to The Bear’s creator, Christopher Storer, led to the stand’s national fame. Zucchero says that Storer, a lifelong friend since kindergarten, had kept in touch after moving to Hollywood, and had even tried to make a movie at Mr. Beef in 2007. Storer would continually mention wanting to set a show or movie there in the years since, and in 2021, Zucchero first got word that a Hollywood production was eyeing Mr. Beef as a location for a new show. 

Storer had successfully created a pilot that FX greenlit with actor Jeremy Allen White playing a young chef who had cooked at some of the world’s best restaurants, but who was returning home to Chicago to take over an Italian beef stand reeling from the death of its owner, his brother, who had committed suicide. Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto assumes the role of chef-owner at The Original Beef of Chicagoland, the fictional setting based on Mr. Beef, and hires another ambitious culinary whiz, Sydney Adamu (played by Ayo Edibiri), to help improve the restaurant.

The show’s up-and-down story arc follows Carmy, Sydney, Carmy’s abrasive yet lovable childhood friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and a supporting cast that includes culinary consultant, chef Matty Mathesson, as they try to navigate the pressures of sustaining a small business. The Bear quickly achieved cult status, and now will follow Carmy, Sydney, and crew as they remodel their Italian beef counter and transform it into a fine dining restaurant in the 10-episode season 2 (with all episodes available for streaming on Hulu starting June 22). 

Zucchero, who had cameos in season one, has of course stayed in touch with Storer following the show’s success, and is “overjoyed” for his friend’s good fortune. While the action shifts a bit in season 2, Zucchero says that the production still did about 10-12 days of filming at Mr. Beef—which will surely bring more attention to the business he now runs. 

Yet while he notes that some have questioned why he hasn’t responded to the attention by raising prices or leaning into the connection with The Bear, he scoffs at the notion. “I'm gonna be the guy that's like ‘I have the restaurant that’s in that TV show’? I mean, it was just a unique thing. And I was honored to be a part of that.”

It should be noted that I didn’t arrange the interview with Zucchero through a PR firm—which he doesn’t have—but through one of Chicago’s best-known restaurateurs, Donny Madia, who connected us via conference call. Zucchero says he’s intent on continuing his father’s path for Mr. Beef, making great sandwiches at a reasonable price without spending a dime on marketing. 
“Mr. Beef had a life way before The Bear,” Zucchero says, “and hopefully it will have a life way after The Bear.”

Mr. Beef, 666 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60654, (312) 337-8500

* This article was updated to reflect that the second season focuses on opening a fine dining restaurant.

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