2018 Chicago Rising Star Chef Brian Ahern of Boeufhaus

2018 Chicago Rising Star Chef Brian Ahern of Boeufhaus
May 2018

Brian Ahern has always followed his intuition, like when he left College of Charleston to cook professionally. Following advice from his father to avoid hefty culinary school loans and to work for the best in the business, Ahern went straight to David Burke’s kitchens, cooking his way up to sous chef and executive sous positions at several restaurants within the David Burke Group.

In 2010, Ahern moved on to work at Chef Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in South Beach, and, after a year of pasta immersion, he helped open DB Bistro Miami as sous chef. It was at Daniel Boulud’s southernmost outpost that he met his future business partner, Jamie Finnegan. The two (and their wives) had tired of Miami and chose Finnegan’s hometown of Chicago to strike out on their own.
After pooling together financing, they found a 100-year-old butcher shop and restaurant (with a liquor license!) on the border of Ukrainian Village. The space and neighborhood dictated to Ahern and Finnegan what their concept would become: a brasserie and German beer garden with killer beef sandwiches to round out a full and fine dinner service. Relatively quietly, Boeufhaus opened in spring 2015 and received two stars in The Chicago Tribune by the fall. In a 2016 review, The New York Times called Boeufhaus “inspired,” “exceptional,” “high-spirited,” and “delicious.” As Boeufhaus comes into its own, Ahern sees the restaurant as a platform for his team to grow, and he plans on opening more concepts to support their dreams in the years to come.

Interview with 2018 Chicago Rising Star Chef Brian Ahern

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start in the industry?

Brian Ahern: I’ve been cooking almost 20 years now. I’m from Rochester, New York, and went to school at College of Charleston. I took a job in a restaurant to make ends meet and started getting a taste for it. I ended up dropping out of college, and my mother wanted me to go to culinary school, but my father warned me about having student loans. He said, “If you want to do this, go to New York and work for the best.” So I went and got a job with David Burke, working from the bottom up. I was a sous chef in the company, doing catering, running restaurants, photo shoots, and TV shoots. I was at Fishtail, Fromagerie, and the cafĂ© at Bloomingdales. I then got a job offer at Scarpetta Miami and spent a year there as a sous chef.

CH: Tell us about the genesis of Boeufhaus.

BA: I left Scarpetta to open DB Bistro as sous chef and met my business partner Jamie Finnegan there. We started throwing around the general idea of opening a place, and we knew we wanted to leave Miami because my wife hated it. We moved to Chicago, where Jamie is from, and started looking for a place.

We found our building on Craigslist, and it morphed into what it is now. The name comes from sandwiches at lunch, namely beef sandwiches. But people don’t have to come here and feel like they have to eat beef. Our menu is 60:40 non-beef to beef on the entree side.

CH: Who do you consider a mentor?

BA: David Burke, for sure, and his righthand man, Chris Shea, took me under his wing. He ran me through the ringer, and I came out the other side. There’s also Michael Pirollo, who I worked with at Scarpetta. He now owns Macchialina in South Beach. 

CH: How are you involved in the local chef community?

BA: We started from humble roots. We’re self-financed, which forced us to know our limitations and also take a calculated risk. I think the chef community respected us for taking that risk. We knew we could be successful as long as we were humble and quality-driven. Because of the location of Humboldt Park—as far west as we are—people said there was no way we could sell an $80 steak in this neighborhood. But we are. As long as we serve it in a humble environment, quality wins every time.

CH: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?

BA: The food has become the easier part. It’s everything else: being disciplined day in and day out; how you receive product; how you order, treat employees, greet guests. Leading by example is the hardest part. 

CH: What's your five-year plan?

BA: I want to own more places, thoughtfully. I don’t want my wife to have to work, and I want to provide a platform for growth for other people, as was done for me. I want to open restaurants to accomplish that.