From the best hotels in downtown Chicago to the best Italian food, we sit down to talk about the top things to do in The Windy City. Join us in this episode to explore Chicago with Max Schroeder, hotel manager of The Peninsula Chicago. They are also joined by Chef Sarah Grueneberg of the Monteverde Restaurant. Sarah is a James Beard Award winner, a finalist on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Texas” and on Food Network’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet.” Max and Sarah share their favorite local spots, where to get the best meal, and more – in Chicago!
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing meetings in Chicago, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at www.americanmeetings.com.
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Ralph Metcalfe once said, “Anywhere in the world you hear a Chicago bluesman play, it’s a Chicago sound born and bred.” Deep dish pizza, Wrigley Field, the Magnificent Mile, architecture, jazz, the steel beam, and of course, the infamous Al Capone, are all associated with a great city of Chicago, Illinois. Known as the Windy City, it is truly the culture of Chicago that attracts business and pleasure travelers alike. The third-largest city in North America, Chicago has some of the richest history, oldest skyscrapers and fun eats like the Chicago dog, Chicago mixed popcorn and of course, the Chicago-style pizza.
Join us as we explore this fun city full of exciting activities for families, history buffs, foodies and sports fans. Discover the secrets of finding a great venue for any event, perfect tours to match your interests, and secret spots you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary. In addition to speaking to the iconic Peninsula Hotel, we will also be speaking with chef-owner, Sarah Grueneberg of the Monteverde Restaurant in the West Loop. Sarah is a James Beard Award winner, competitor and finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, Texas and Food Network’s Iron Chef Gauntlet. Exciting travel doesn’t have to be far. It can be right in your own backyard. Explore Chicago with us. Welcome to this episode of Destination Everywhere, Chicago.
We are taking you to the fabulous and incredible city of Chicago. We love Chicago. I can’t imagine a better city in the summer than Chicago. It’s a little cold in the winter, but the summers are spectacular. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, taking clients around the city. We’re excited to take you around the city. Todd, what are some of the experiences you’ve had? You’ve probably been to Chicago more than I have over the years by taking clients there. What are some of your top things, the experiences that make you want to go back over and over again?
Every time that I’ve been to Chicago, I don’t think I’ve stayed in the same hotel maybe even more than twice. Whether it’s the Ritz Carlton or the Intercon, Park Hyatt, The Peninsula, they’re all in great locations. If you walk a little bit outside of your hotel in each one of those locations, that’s all off of Michigan. That’s all The Magnificent Mile right there. It’s a lot like New York. People have always said it’s a smaller version of New York. There’s much culture. There are many restaurants. Every time I’ve gone, it seems like it’s changed a little bit for the good.
It is a living city, for sure.
They redid the stadium there. If you’re flying to Midway, you come in and you pass Soldier Field. It’s been some time. It’s not new anymore. I remember seeing it before and then seeing it after and it’s like, “Wow.” The technology in that stadium is unbelievable. In fact, we took some visitors there and it was a great experience. You’re walking through and then you see.
Three years in a row, it got the best US city from Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award. The reason is that there are many things to do. There are over 30 individual neighborhoods. The look and feel of each of those neighborhoods is truly unique. The number of things to do, we’re going to talk about some of our favorites. We’ve got some unique ones for you. Let’s talk about the food and the restaurants. It has some of the best restaurants in the country. We have Chef Sarah Grueneberg, who is going to be speaking to us about her restaurant. The food and the culture are coming together to create those unique restaurants and make it a special place.
The first time I went to Chicago was in my early twenties. I went there to work. There was an old hotel, it’s The Drake Hotel. It’s at the end of Michigan, right before the beaches start. There’s such history with this one hotel. It’s not a new contemporary hotel. If you go in there looking for lots of lights and clean lines, that’s not going to be the hotel that you want to go to. It’s classic. It reminds you of Waldorf Astoria from New York. The rooms are a little different. There’s no set and form. You walk right outside of it and you have some grass. I never envisioned Chicago and thinking about grass and open spaces, there’s quite a lot of that there too. It’s one of the cities that surprised me when I went there. It wasn’t what I had in my head. Every time I go back, I enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.
It sits on Lake Michigan. This is North Beach. I chose this picture because my cousin used to live in one of these high rises. We would walk in and experience Lincoln Park and all that area right there on the coast. It rivals any other US city when it comes to the look, feel and the energy you receive from all these green spaces tied into the city. It’s a great place to go to. If you haven’t experienced it, you absolutely have to go.
Think about celebrities. One time, we took a large group there and we did Second City. If you don’t know what Second City is, it’s the platform for a lot of the Saturday Night Live talent. We took them to go see an improv show at Second City and it was cool. You’re seeing these people. I don’t remember who I saw then, but I guarantee you, 1 or 2 of them might be doing something big. I wish I could put that name with a face again. They were talented. It’s iconic in Chicago, the Second City. There’s also a lot of famous people.
David Schwimmer from Friends, I ran into him once in a lobby in Chicago. I saw him later at a party. You run into tons of people. Melissa McCarthy lives there, Oprah, Tina Fey, it goes on and on. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is from there and Fred Armisen. If you’re talking about Second City, it’s a comic galore. Stephen Colbert got his start in Chicago.
Don’t forget the Cusack’s, Joan and John. A friend of mine, she was neighbors with Joan Cusack. She said she was friendly. There’s a lot of history. Think about The Play Chicago. It has a history of being mob influenced. Back in the day, Al Capone was from Chicago.
The Untouchables is one of my favorite movies of all time. That’s a great movie. If you want to get old-time Chicago, watch The Untouchables.
Do you know where the name Chicago comes from?
I do not.
It’s an Algonquin, Indian word. It’s Chigagou. That was the first recorded influence in 1680.
What does it mean?
It means onion field.
They grew up in new fields there. Earlier I said 30 neighborhoods, it’s 77. There’s so much to see and so much to do. It is one of the best. Obviously, you can tell Todd and I love the city. We’ve been there many times. We’re excited to share with you some of our guests as well as our bucket list items to do. Todd, who’s our guest?
We have a couple of guests. We’re going to be speaking with the hotel manager of The Peninsula Hotel, which is obviously an iconic and gorgeous property. One of the best rooms and best experiences I’ve ever had at a property was in The Peninsula. Sitting in a tub with a huge window and overlooking Michigan was neat. It’s a beautiful property. We also have Sarah Grueneberg with Monteverde, an award-winning chef. I’m excited. Her specialty is Italian. When you think of Chicago, you’ve got to go Italian and obviously Chicago style pizza. Uno’s Pizzeria, Sicilian, was from Chicago. It’s thick bread and good pizza. We got a couple of great guests. I’m excited to talk to them and get their vision of what they see Chicago as.
We’ll be joined by Chef Sarah. We’re excited to talk to her.
At AMI, we are passionate about meeting connections that change lives. For over twenty years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe supporting their business goals and helping them stand apart from hotel sourcing to audiovisual magic. We’ll help make your corporate meetings or events second to none. Go to AmericanMeetings.com to learn more. American Meetings, AMI, meeting, planning perfected.
I’m excited to have our next guest. We have the Chef and Owner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, Sarah Gruenberg. Thank you for joining us, Sarah.
Sarah is joining us from the Windy City of Chicago. Sarah, how did you end up in Chicago? From what I understand, you’re originally from Texas.
I was a young cook in Houston and I had excelled at the restaurant there. My chef was like, “You’re young. Go travel if you can.” I flew up to Chicago, and it was great.
Was your first job in Chicago with Spiaggia?
Yes. To get a job in the culinary industry then and even now, I did what I call staging. I flew up to Chicago and did some working interviews at a few different restaurants. My last interview is at Spiaggia with Missy Robbins and she was like, “You’ll have to come back.” I flew back up on a second trip and she offered me the job. I called my mom and I said, “I got a job. I’m moving.” She started crying and then she flew up the next day. We looked for apartments, and the rest is history. My whole family is still in Texas.
Where in Texas?
The Houston area.
We looked at your record at Spiaggia and you were the executive chef there, correct?
You worked your way up, but as your tenure, you did receive a Michelin star. Was it three years in a row?
What was that like when you got the first Michelin star?
[bctt tweet=”A wonderful thing about Peninsula is that it’s always trying to raise the bar a little bit.” via=”no”]
Tony, it was our first time and we didn’t quite understand Michelin stars in the US versus Japan and Europe. They’re totally different. At first, I was like, “One star,” but then we realized, that’s incredible. In Michelin star, they judge everything, the whole experience. It makes you look through your restaurant with the magnifying glass. It’s not just about the food. It’s a service and the wallpaper in the bathroom. They critique every little detail.
They always look at the executive chef as the captain of the ship when it comes to a Michelin star and I know it’s a whole team effort. There’s no doubt about that. There is one face that gets the recognition and that would be you.
It’s Tony and I.
That’s a great notch on your belt without a doubt. Since then, you’ve also got a couple of other things. You’ve got a James Beard Award, which is another phenomenal.
That was one of the best days of my life.
Tell us about it. How did you find out?
They have awards every year. It was the 2nd or 3rd year that the awards were going to be held in Chicago, and that was cool. It’s always in New York. It’s a black-tie event. You get dressed up and get your hair done, make up on and you get your posy with you. It’s an award style event. They have an award show and call the nominees, and then they call my name for the Chicago or the Midwest region and I was insane.
You didn’t know ahead of time? It’s not until they call your name right there?
Are you nominated and they award you or you did not know at all?
It’s a three-part nomination. The general public can apply and nominate you. There were two rounds of voting. I knew that I was in a semi-finalists list, then I knew I was on the finalists’ list, but you don’t find out who wins until you’re at the event.
I’m surprised that it’s something like that. With all of the celebrity that goes on with chefs now and the cooking shows, that is not a huge televised event like the Tonys or the Oscars.
You will be someday.
I’m sure it’s got to be in the works.
It is in the works.
You were on Iron Chef Gauntlet, right?
What was that experience like?
I’m curious, how do you do that and still run a restaurant?
They are understanding. They allow you to have your phone. Top Chef is total isolation. In Iron Chef Gauntlet, you were able to use your phone on breaks and read your email and things like that, which is good but it was almost a distraction in a way. When you’re in that mode of competition cooking, I don’t need a lot of distraction. I need to focus on what’s happening.
You did Top Chef Texas. You did that when you were still in Texas, obviously, before you moved to Chicago.
I was the chef at Spiaggia. That was in 2011.
Did they let you take a little hiatus to participate?
Yes. It’s great for any restaurant to get on that show. I cannot believe that it was Texas. How lucky was that I was chosen for was my home state. The two finalists, Paul and I, we’re both from Texas.
Was there a little collision going on?
Do people recognize you from being on the shows? My kids will watch cooking shows. They’d rather watch that than a lot of other things. Cooking has come a long way. The chef, staff, and preps aren’t hidden in the kitchen anymore. These people are front and center. They’re a celebrity to you guys. It’s great. What do you think about that as a chef? You don’t go into it looking for any celebrity but you become one.
When the Food Network came out, I was about twelve. I love to cook and I love to eat. I love to be with my family, cooking, and things like that. When the Food Network came out, it was like, “There are actual chefs.” Growing up where I came from, the restaurants didn’t have chefs in the front and center yet. That was only in the big metropolitan cities. The Food Network came on, I was like, “Look at these chefs.” There was always a little bit of me that thought maybe there was an opportunity for some TV, but never did I want to make that my goal. It was always cooking first, being respected by my peers and making the most delicious food possible. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the idea of television.
What a great promotion for whatever restaurant a chef is working on. It must help the business.
It does so much. Anything that you can do.
That’s why you’re here.
Pretty much. I don’t know if I’d be on here.
Let’s talk about that because, obviously, your passion is cooking. Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, I found out it means pasta factory. You’re from Texas. Were you cooking Italian dishes of pastas in Texas? How did you get into this mix?
[bctt tweet=”For a Michelin star, they judge everything, the whole experience. It makes you look through your restaurant with a magnifying glass.” via=”no”]
I don’t come from an Italian background. I want to take a DNA test.
You might have something there.
There’s a little Italian in here.
You are using your hands quite a bit.
I was only interested in pasta because I love pasta. I went to Spiaggia to learn fresh pasta. Part of that training, when I got working out for the ranks, when Missy was moving back to New York, she said, “I’m putting your name forward to take my position.” I was like, “Me? I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I’ve never been to Italy.” That was part of the deal. Tony and Spiaggia sent me there for two weeks when I was 26.
Did you go there and worked with some chefs there to learn the basis where it came from? The pasta itself is from China, originally. Isn’t it? Is that still debatable?
Don’t say that to Italians.
Chinese civilization is older than the Roman Empire. There’s a good minds think alike there.
When you think of Italians, they’re proud of their food, sauces, and their pasta. To see somebody who might be considered an outsider, you’re going up against some of these people. You’re talking families and generations of hidden secrets for their secret sauces and things like that. You’ve broken that barrier, which is great.
You have to learn the culture. A lot of young chefs think, “I can cook Italian food. Italian food is easy.” It’s not easy. The cuisine looks simple. Just like Italians, if you see their dress, the design, the cars, it looks simple. However, the design is top level. There’s a lot of detail that goes into it. They have a saying, “Sprezzatura,” which means it happened. It looks like it fell there. That’s the goal of the Italian way. Going to Italy and learning that was why I talk with my hands. There are a lot of things like that happen. If you want to cook Italian food, you have to dive deep into the culture because there are so many hidden secrets and hidden traditions passed down. Every region in Italy is even more unique than the states of the US. You’re talking different dialects and different everything. You have to learn all those. You don’t just go like, “I cook Tuscan food.”
Do you have a certain area from Italy that you focus on? Do you do the entire country?
I get inspiration from all over. The Pastificio and the idea of the pasta factory come from the northern central area of Emilia-Romagna. That is the king of Italian food. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, fresh pasta made with egg, that is from that area. That’s what you see at Monteverde. We have an antique mirror that hangs above our pasta station and you can watch the hands make all the pasta. We make fresh pasta to order.
Do you have any advice for upcoming chefs and young kids on how to make pasta at home? How easy is it to throw it? What do you need? Can you do it in ten minutes with your kids? Give us some advice to get people into pasta.
The best advice for pasta is to have a pasta roller, either an attachment with the KitchenAid or one that hooks up to the countertop. You have to make the dough and let it rest, that’s the biggest secret. The dough will look dry or maybe not hydrated. As it rests, it becomes hydrated. A lot of times, people will add more flour or more eggs than they need. By the time it rests, it’s too soft to roll. My best advice is to have a gram scale, 100 grams of flour per one egg.
Don’t over saturate it, let it do it itself.
Mix it then let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour.
I have a juicer but it comes with a pasta attachment. I haven’t even looked at the pasta attachment.
That looks like drink the juice but eat all the pasta.
Your punishment and your reward is what it is. Let’s go back to Monteverde. You started this with a longtime friend, Meg Sahs. How did you go from being an executive chef and saying, “I want to go out on my own?” Not only be a chef, which is in itself a lot of stress and a lot of work but being a business owner, which is taking it to a completely different level.
Going into something like that with a friend that you trust is the best thing. I know a lot of people say, “Don’t go into business with your friends.” I would recommend it, especially if your friend is the opposite of you. We both balance each other. She started at Spiaggia the same week that I did. She’s one of my first friends that I met there. We got the same of what we want of a culture. She focuses on the culture of our team, the financial side of our business. I focus a lot on the creative feeling. I’m the emotional person and she’s the brain.
You’re the heart and she’s the brain. That works out. Those partnerships can take you far. Do you have any vision of opening up any additional restaurants?
We did and then this whole thing happened. We had to get out of a lease that was hard. It’s tough. It didn’t feel right. I haven’t looked back since. Sometimes, you have to get out of something before you get further. Hopefully, in a little bit.
Tell us about your staff. Tell us a little bit about your team and where you found them and the synergies that you guys have, either in the kitchen or in the front of the house that makes it work.
We’re like a big old family. My husband, Jamie, works in the front and does a lot of the guest relations. He’s our maître d’ if you will. He has the ability to see someone and knows their name, knows what they like to drink. We want to bring that kind of feel to the environment.
That’s Todd in our business. He shows up and he’s the hand shaker. It’s the same thing.
We also have a good friend of ours, Rob, who is the line side. He is the investor partner at the restaurant, too. We have a lot of us in that higher part. That was for the other restaurants that we were going to grow. Under that, we have a great group of managers that work with us, many who have been with us for multiple years since the beginning. In the kitchen, we have Bailey Sullivan. She’s one of our chefs and she’s great. She’s worked with us since the first year that we opened. She went to Italy. She did a little bit of a Sarah journey over there. That’s the goal, to bring our team. Before all this happened, it was like, “Take people to Italy. Let’s get them to experience it.” A lot of kitchens and a lot of restaurants, previously, were front and back. No mixing. It was like, “Don’t talk to them.” We try to bring our team together and have everyone work together and communicate. I like to be in the dining room. I like to see the guests. I like to talk to the guests.
Guests love that, they love it when you come around. I love it when I talk to the chef. I ask some questions.
If we ever bring somebody to a restaurant, if it’s a great meal, how can you not want to say, “Can we meet the chef?” Thank them. It makes you look like you’re passionate about what you’re eating. It gives you a chance to give that credit to somebody who’s worked hard to put it in front of you, which is great. You obviously work with your husband. Can you separate it when you come home?
That’s the goal of COVID-19. That’s the silver lining.
I’m wondering how far the divorce rate is going to go up.
It’s either people live together forever.
It’s like, “I can’t handle being with him for 24 hours straight.”
[bctt tweet=”Italian food and cuisine look simple. However, the design is top level. There’s a lot of detail that goes into it. ” via=”no”]
Honestly, when I’m at work, I’m all business. I don’t look at him as my husband. He would say the same thing. The work-life balance has been the hardest. My career has always been first. That’s how I was raised. Watching my mom that raised me on her own, her career was first. I need to see what’s next. The career is stable. There’s the foundation there.
I’m seeing a television show in your future.
You’ll never know. You definitely have the personality for it. You’ve got the experience. If we’re going to come to your restaurant, I always like to ask the chef, what is your favorite dish?
The pasta, of course. You have to have pasta. My favorite dish that I like, I even take it home on Sunday sometimes so I can have it on my day off, is our Burrata E Ham. It’s like a play on words a little bit. Burrata being a beautiful cheese from Puglia, Italy and then prosciutto. What brings it all together is the tigelle bread that we make. Do you watch Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix?
I haven’t seen that.
Let’s put it on our list.
You all should take a peek. The Chicago episode is fun. We made this dish and these little sandwiches. Tigelle comes from Emilia-Romagna, which is the region that I was talking about with the pasta. They’re like an English muffin meets a pita. We make the dough and then we have this special press from Italy that’s like two stone panini press. The doughs go in there and then we press them and they get griddled. They’re crispy and golden.
Can you FedEx me one?
I’m working on it because everyone’s like, “I want these Tigelles in my house.” We make prosciutto butter. We take some butter and mix in a bunch of chopper prosciutto. The burrata and the prosciutto butter and more sliced prosciutto. We’re doing shaved melons. It’s like this baby little sandwich. To me, I love to sit at the bar, have my little sandwiches, have a glass of wine, a cocktail, a martini and I’m happy.
I’d be sitting right next to you at the bar because I prefer a bar than a long sit-down dinner sometimes. I get antsy. I like the conversations. You’re in the West Loop of Chicago. Why did you pick the West Loop in terms of opening a restaurant location? Was it the neighborhood? What goes through your mind?
Meg chose or found the location. The West Loop is the meatpacking market district like how New York was. It’s like that rough edge area that then became condos and fancy restaurants and trendy-trendy. The West Loop is directly west of our downtown financial district. It’s across the river. Randolph Street is known as our new restaurant row. There are a ton of great new restaurants on Randolph. We’re on Madison. We’re a few streets south of there. What we like about it is that we’re big fans of Chicago sports, The Bulls and The Blackhawks. We’re ten blocks from the United Center. We’re in a little part of the West Loop that’s more neighborhoody feeling, a lot of different families, young adults. We wanted to be in a neighborhood-style restaurant where, yes, you can fly into Chicago and have a reservation dine in. You can also walk in the bar available.
Pastificio obviously means a pasta factory. Are you retailing pasta? Do you have any retail items that you’re selling?
We’re working on it. On our online ordering, we have a whole mercado section. We have fresh pasta. We are drying one of them, which is shelf-stable. I’m working on a fresh pasta retail line. I tested a pasta that was made two weeks before and it was still perfect. The fresh pasta cooks much faster.
How do you store fresh pasta? Does it have to be refrigerated?
You kept it refrigerated and two weeks later, it was still great.
You are someone that came in and moved into Chicago. What are some of your favorite things about Chicago? If you have someone that’s coming to the town, not the touristy things, what are the unique things that you do with them?
The blues bars are definitely one of my favorite things. The blues scene is incredible. I love the parks, walking through Grant Park, walking through Millennium Park. The whole lakefront walking area is beautiful.
It’s perfect for someone that’s coming to town even if they don’t know that they can easily walk. It’s not that long of a space. You can do it in a few hours. It’s a great way to see the city. In the summertime, there’s not a better place on the planet.
They stick with that Magnificent Mile stretch. You go into the loop, which is cool. You’ve got the river. Of course, St. Patrick’s Day, when they make that green and everything. You’ve got Boystown. Going in town, you’ve got the entire lake. The beaches there, they’re packed in the summertime. Those guys, they’re ready for it.
One thing I do highly recommend that is touristy but I still go on it is the architecture tour in the river.
I would agree with you on that.
It’s the way to see the city from there and to see the architecture is great, and then go to a Sox or a Cubs game. You have to ride the L.
You were objective, a Sox or a Cubs game. Mostly they’d be like, “Go to a Sox game. Go to a Cubs game.” You were nice and objective about it.
We’re Cubs fans in this household.
Sarah, we ask each one of our guests a few questions about their experience with travel so our followers can hear new and different ideas of where to go and what to do. We’re going to ask you these questions and there’s no right or wrong answer. Let’s have a little bit of fun with it. Have you ever completed anything that’s on your personal bucket list?
Yes. Top Chef was, for sure, a bucket list thing. I was a huge fan of the show. To go and learn and to have that experience, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
It would be in Italy. Probably a different region every month.
If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, who would it be?
Did you ever get a chance to meet him?
[bctt tweet=”People say don’t go to business with your friends. But on the contrary, go for it, especially if your friend is the opposite of you.” via=”no”]
I did not. He opened a lot of our eyes to the culture and cuisine.
When you are packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers?
I’m a big fan of my Yeti bottle. I take my Yeti bottle everywhere, the screw top. I always have fresh water. I also like the translate app on my phone, with the camera.
Besides what I can find in my cabinets, which are salt, pepper, and butter, what are 4 or 5 must-have ingredients in every kitchen? Whenever I cook something, there’s always that one thing that I’m like, “I’ve never even heard of this.” It’s not there and then I give up and then I order something.
I would say a good quality red wine vinegar or balsamic. Dijon from France, the spicy mustard. A little bit of that in a sauce will go a long way. I like fish sauce, a splash of that. I love to have capers. It’s always around. A whole peeled Italian tomato. You can make anything with that. Of course, you got to have good olive oil. Finishing olive oil and cooking olive oil.
There are two different ones. I don’t think a lot of people would know that. There are a finishing and a cooking. It’s good to know.
The cooking is your more cost-effective one. The finishing oil, which you want to look at, is you want to turn the bottle around and see if there’s an expiration date. If there is, chances are that’s a good quality oil that they care about.
Finally, Sarah, what is your most memorable experience in Chicago since you’ve been there?
Winning the James Beard Award. Opening a restaurant here and being part of the scene and being accepted in Chicago has been great.
Thank you very much. If our readers want more information about your restaurant, where can they find it?
MonteverdeChicago.com. On Instagram, @MonteverdeChi.
Sarah, you’ve been an absolute joy. We wish you every success in everything that you do. We know we’re going to see great things. I have no doubt we’re going to see you on TV again. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you, Sarah.
Have a great day.
We are going to talk about some of our top bucket list of things to do. We’ve got some great ones for you. Chicago, we’ve been going for years and years. Every time it’s fun and it’s different. There are many things to do. One of my favorite things to do is to walk the city at night. Chicago is known for having the best lit city in the Northern Hemisphere and some of the best architecture. One of the things I love to do is to get a nice camera and go around and take photos of the night lights and the skyscrapers and the actual view itself. It was absolutely incredible. If you want something to do, something unique, get some exercise and have some fun, take photos across the city at night.
Also, take a jacket. I can remember taking one of those walks. I was walking between Michigan and Rush Street. I was on one of those little side streets. I found out why it was called the Windy City. Honestly, I had to fight the wind to get to Rush Street. It was cold and windy.
Maybe do it in the late spring or early fall or maybe in the summer. Summer is a perfect time to do it. Here’s another one that I’ve done a lot. There are tons of speakeasy and jazz clubs in Chicago. One of the great things to do, to definitely put on your bucket list is to experience a traditional night at a Chicago jazz club. Do it right, even dress the part. Some of the speakeasies have dress-up nights, which is a lot of fun. One of the famous ones is the Green Mill Jazz Club. I’ve been there many times. It’s about 100 years old. Everyone from Al Capone to Charlie Chaplin used to hang out there. It’s known for its great jazz. It’s got a ton of history if you want to do something unique, experience a night at a jazz club and do it up right.
Chicago blues and jazz, these are all things that are iconic to Chicago. You mentioned Al Capone. You can also do one of the mobs and crime tours of Chicago. There are many different ones. There’s The Untouchables tour. To go and see some of the spots where they hung out, they interacted, they committed crimes, there’s a fascination with that. It’s in Hollywood movies. It’s everywhere.
One of my favorite all-time movies is The Untouchables. If you’re going to do it, watch The Untouchables before you go. I love that movie. It’s well-written but it shows the city and what it was like back in the day.
There is an Untouchable tour for you to experience. I was going to talk about another event, one that is huge in Chicago. If you happen to be there, it’s five days long. It’s the Taste of Chicago. The Taste of Chicago, I don’t even know if I walked all the way around it. There’s so much there to see and taste. It’s one of those places you don’t want to go and just get a meal at one of the tents because then you’re going to be full before you even get to the next tent. This is expansive. It takes up a huge amount of space. Every cuisine you could possibly think of is there. You’ve got five days to participate in this. Get tickets ahead of time, but check it out when you’re in Chicago.
The best experience that I’ve had when I’d gone is to do some of the smaller events. There are tons of them. There are private classes with chefs. You don’t even need to go with one of the top name chefs. Even some of the smaller up and coming chefs have these fun, individual classes you can do. You can take different tours of different types of food. There are tons of things. There’s also a cultural and a music festival. It’s in the best time of year, in the summer. You can’t miss it. You can’t go wrong. Put that on your bucket list. I would highly recommend it. I’ve had a great time every time I’ve ever gone, for sure.
Here’s a cool one that I found out about and I’m going to do it next time I’m in Chicago. Go to the Obama Kissing Rock. This is a rock at 53rd South Dorchester. It is the place where Barack Obama first kissed Michelle on their first date. It’s outside of an old subway now. It was a Baskin-Robbins at the time. President Obama and Michelle were on their first date and they shared a couple of scoops of chocolate ice cream. He said their first kiss tastes like chocolate. If you want a little bit of history and you want to take your significant other to somewhere special while you’re in Chicago. It’s fun and quirky.
His daughter’s get to go see it. That’s neat. I’ve never heard of an official kissing monument for a first kiss.
Another one that’s cool and this is off the beaten path, it’s right in the middle of Chicago, is Wacker Drive. This was a three-tiered structure built as a freeway and greenspace. Three levels below it, they do, on the weekends, usually Friday nights, illegal drag racing. It’s hard to get to it that the cops usually never come. I’ve never done this. There’s an underground experience where you go and watch drag racing at night. It sounds like something that’s cool. That’s at Wacker Street. Look it up online and there’s lots of information about it. They usually happen on Friday night. If you’re looking for something to do unique and to check off, go into an illegal drag race. If that’s on your bucket list, definitely consider it.
Maybe the mafia is involved. Maybe that’s why the police don’t bust it. Who hasn’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? It’s a great movie with Matthew Broderick. There’s a scene in the movie besides the great parade scene, lots of great scenes. They go to a museum and they go to the Art Institute of Chicago. They look at some great paintings. If you do have time, go to the Art Institute and walk around. They’ve got over 30 paintings by Monet. Andy, what is the name of the picture that’s focused in the movie?
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.
It’s the one with people with their parasols overlooking the Seine.
It’s pointillism where there are little dots that create the entire thing. You look at it closely and look from afar. It’s a bucket list item if you’re an art aficionado. It’s something definitely to see when you’re there.
It’s like seeing The Mona Lisa.
If you’ll ever go into one of these large museums, if you’re on vacation, go on a Tuesday or Thursday in the morning. It’s usually empty during the week. Try to experience it where you’re not in the crowds. That’s where you get to have the best bucket list experience. There are also private tours you can do at the Art Institute. You can get a little more education if that’s up your alley. Visit the Art Institute in Chicago. Speaking of large and great areas to see. If you’re in Chicago and you need a little green space, something that I’ve loved and something that we’ve rented out for a private event is the Garfield Park Conservatory.
It is a huge green space in the middle of Chicago. It’s opened every day of the year. Here’s a tip, Wednesdays are free. If you want to have a great experience and do it for free, go on Wednesdays to it. It’s a study space as well as an educational space that has all different types of fauna from all over the world. It’s one of the few large indoor green spaces in Chicago. I highly recommend it. It’s free on Wednesdays. It’s something that you can do. You can get a lot of exercise because you’ll walk the entire time and enjoy the space. It’s incredible.
If you want another green space and it’s definitely not free, it’s starting right at around $25,000, you can go out on Wrigley Field and play some ball and have the scoreboard work with you and play music during the seventh-inning stretch. Obviously, it’s not during game days. That is a space that if you can afford it, have at it. I know people have done weddings in Wrigley Field and it’s supposed to be incredible.
[bctt tweet=”A lot of restaurants are front and back, no mixing.” via=”no”]
What a great bucket list idea. You can get 25 of your best friends and have two teams.
Everybody can pitch in $1,000.
That’s what I would do.
It only goes up from there, but that’s cool. There’s another one and it’s quite pricey also. There is a helicopter tour that leaves from a restaurant where you have a beautiful pairing dinner at a restaurant. A transportation picks you up. You go to a helicopter. You fly to the John Hancock building. At the top of the building, it’s nicknamed the top of the cock. There are views, obviously. If you’ve been to the top of the John Hancock, there’s the old Sears Tower, which is the Willis Tower and the John Hancock. Those are the two skyscrapers. They’re vying for whoever’s the tallest. The height comes from the spire. At the top of the Hancock, it’s 360. You’ll get access to this space once it’s closed. It’s called the Tilt. The tilt is the windows. You hold on to a bar and the windows slowly start to tilt over Michigan Avenue until they’re at 30 degrees. If you have vertigo or fear of heights, definitely not. If you’ve got the money and you want to take a helicopter over there and then get private access to this after your pairing dinner, absolutely go for it. Why not? Spend the money.
Something that’s not that expensive and something I’ve taken clients to is to take an improv class at Second City. Second City is known for loading up the famous Saturday Night Live. Stephen Colbert got to start at Second City. You can take a class from a comic at Second City and then see a show. That’s a great bucket list item. You’ll never know, maybe you’ll end up on Saturday Night Live if you got any chops.
It probably helped you with the job interview. You take a Second City class and you go in a job interview. I’m trying to think of the dynamic that would have been there. That would be funny.
In your job interview, you can say, “I did comedy at Second City.” You can work it.
You’re interviewing for a crisis counselor.
Those are our top bucket list items. We hope you found some unique ones with us. We’re going to be speaking to the hotel manager of The Peninsula, one of the top hotels in the city.
We have Max Schroeder. He is the Hotel Manager from The Peninsula Chicago, which is absolutely one of my favorite properties.
It’s an absolutely fantastic property.
Max, I want to dive right in. I want to find out a little bit. You’re originally from Iowa, so how did you end up in Chicago and no less at The Peninsula, which is an iconic property on the Magnificent Mile? Tell us how that happened.
A long time ago when I was growing up in Iowa, I was a foreign exchange student in France, believe it or not, while I was in high school. I had some friends that I met in France from Chicago. When we all went back to our hometowns, and I’m in Iowa and I’m seventeen years old, I told my parents, “I’m going to go drive to Chicago by myself to visit my friends that I met in France that are in Chicago.” I grew up in a town population of 400,000 in Iowa and looking back, I wouldn’t let a seventeen-year-old drive to Chicago by themselves at all.
For some reason, my parents assumed, “You’ve been to France. You can drive to Chicago by yourself.” I drove to Chicago and I remember vividly driving down the Eisenhower Expressway for the first time and seeing that skyline, which is right behind you. I was blown away by this amazing skyline and I was like, “One day, I want to live in Chicago.” I was seventeen years old and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing.
If you would have told me, “In 2020, you’d be sitting in the middle of downtown on the Magnificent Mile at The Peninsula Chicago,” I probably would have thought you were crazy, but it all worked out. I went to travel school and I got transferred from Des Moines to Chicago through American Express Travel, which is the first company I started with. I got into the hotel business in 2002 and shortly thereafter, came to The Peninsula. It was a wild ride but it was good.
How long have you been at The Peninsula, Max?
Cumulatively, I’ve been at The Peninsula Chicago for twelve years total.
In 2019, you got the Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award, the number 1 among the top 25 luxury hotels in the United States. I’ve stayed at your property and it’s absolutely incredible. The lobby itself blows you away when you walk in. It’s amazing. Tell us what you think sets you apart and allow you to get that number one status because that’s what our audiences want to know. They want to know why they should go to The Peninsula and stay there. What is the unique experience that they’re going to have?
First of all, Chicago is full of magnificent hotels, and of course, the US. In The Peninsula, what sets us apart is that Eastern graciousness combined with our Midwest hospitality. Every luxury hotel is going to have similar qualities as far as the best linens, best facilities, and amenities for our guests but at Peninsula, it’s that Eastern graciousness and Midwest hospitality. It’s our staff that is so dedicated to learning all about our guests. They want to know who you are so we can customize their experiences as much as we can.
If we find out you’re celebrating something, we want to make sure we’re creating memories for you. That’s what keeps bringing people back over and over again. One time, I received a call from a guest who had never stayed here before. This guest called me specifically to tell me that when he checked in, from the moment he walked in, he was like, “I could tell there was a difference and it was your staff. They’re genuinely warm. They’re interested in why I was here and what they can do to help make my stay flawless.” It is the staff and Midwest hospitality that takes over.
When I was a young meeting planner, I remember one of my first times in Chicago. We did a program at your property and as a meeting planner, you go in a little early. I remember someone greeted me in the lobby. What surprised me and now I’ve learned is they hold off the business cards with two hands and I was like, “What do they do?” I found out, as you grow, it’s an Asian proper etiquette way to pass your business card. There was something about it that was classy and nice.
Did you remember it, Todd?
I remembered it. It carried on throughout the entire program. I went up to my room and what got me was the way the rooms work is everything is one touch. You have the mood lighting. It’s programmed in such a way where everything is one touch of a button and it was absolutely great. Of course, I went into the bathroom and the bathtub overlooked the city. I remember sitting there watching TV and then overlooking the city. It was such a great experience and I’m not the only one that felt it. Every single one out there felt it.
You were sitting in the bathtub watching TV. Is that what you just said?
Yes, I was taking advantage of it. It was great. We’ve traveled with some discerning business people who’ve had odd requests, to say the least. You met every single one of them, which was great so hats off to the staff for that. Tell us a little bit about the property. You’ve got amazing bars and a pool, which is a rare thing in the city. What are some of the above and beyond that you can tell our readers about?
You touched on the room technology, which is key to expound upon because it is another thing that sets us apart from our competition anywhere in the world. In Hong Kong, where the Peninsula is based, we have a warehouse where every single model room is built and tested. It’s a fully functioning model room where it has running water and we test the technology. We have heating and air conditioning. Our executives, various people stay in the model rooms to test and make sure that everything is easily accessible, comfortable, and 100% geared to the comfort of our guests.
We try to think, “Where would you need a hook? Where would you need a telephone? Where do you need the remote control? Where would you need bedside panels? Everybody has a phone that they want next to them, so we need chargers.” We’re interested in making sure that the comforts in the rooms are well thought out and well laid out. When you’re in your cocoon in your room, that’s what you’re experiencing. TVs in the bathrooms, especially for a business traveler when you’re getting ready in the morning and you want to catch up on the news. I have many children and their favorite thing about the hotel is watching cartoons. It’s something you don’t do when you’re not at home.
It’s no exception. They’re the same. Talk about the bar because you have a unique bar space for your property.
Another wonderful thing about Peninsula is we’re always trying to raise the bar a little bit. We had a popular bar on the fifth floor and the main lobby area. It was dark and had a fireplace and dark wood. It’s cozy and popular during the holidays in January and February. Our chairman came to Chicago and he was touring the property and looking at some structural items in the building. We were on the rooftop of the ballroom and he was standing up there looking down the Magnificent Mile and was like, “We need a bar up here. Look at this view. There’s no place in Chicago that has this amazing view.” It took a little bit of convincing the city and we had to get the design work done. We built Z Bar, which is named after our regional VP and general manager here at The Peninsula, Maria Zec. Z Bar is named after her because she’d been here for so long and what has attributed to that.
What a nice thing to do for an employee.
The Peninsula was known for that and some of the other hotels. They’ve named different outlets after significant people within the company. A perfectly good bar was good. It was a nice bar but we want it to be better. What it did was it reintroduced a lot of Chicagoans and guests coming to Chicago to the Peninsula because they wanted to go to the new Z Bar.
It became a place to go and Chicago is popular now.
It’s definitely the spot that everybody wants to be at. It has a great outdoor terrace overlooking Michigan Avenue. I know people think of Chicago in winter is not being outdoors, but we get weather in February and March that you can sit outside with a fire pit and look down Michigan Avenue. It’s stunning.
It’s opened all year long?
All year long.
I wouldn’t have thought that at all. You’ve got big fires out there so everyone can stay warm and serve hot coffees. I want to. It sounds perfect.
I’m not going to lie to you. In the summer months, it’s pretty spectacular but winter is alright.
It’s a different experience.
That’s not the only outdoor space that you have. Do you have additional outdoor space? Which is unusual for city property.
Shanghai Terrace has consistently been rated as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the City of Chicago. It opens up onto a large terrace and what a great experience to be in this little oasis. You feel like you’re transported to maybe a resort feels in Asia with palms, beautiful landscaping on this terrace, and the traditional Chinese cuisine, cocktails, etc. You look up and then you have the John Hancock there. You have the skyline of the City of Chicago and it’s a great escape. It’s a little oasis in the city for sure.
If you could tell us a little bit about your restaurant and the executive chef.
We were able to recruit an amazing executive chef, Chef Baasim. His resume is robust. There are lots of famous hotels in London, Chicago, etc., that we were able to recruit. What I love about Chef Baasim is that his heritage is Indian, so he brings in a new level of spice into all of our cuisines, whether it be in banquets, the lobby restaurant, in Z Bar. It’s not Indian food per se, but he takes some of those characteristics of that spice that Indian food is known for and brings it into other dishes that have worked well and made it more exciting cuisine.
For large groups, is he a creative chef, where if someone comes that doesn’t want the typical chafing dish meals like fish, chicken or some type of beef? If you go to him with a challenge, you say, “This is what I want. This is what I want to spend and I’ve got 100 people. Give me something that’s out of the ballpark.” Is he one of those guys that will take it and run with it?
Yes. I’ve been in hotels for many years and Chef Baasim is one of the most creative chefs that I’ve worked with. He can create any dish based on individual preferences and any challenges. He welcomes any dietary restrictions. We’re in the world of dietary restrictions, whether it be vegan or lactose, etc. He’ll create great dishes that can cater to any dietary restriction whatsoever.
When someone comes to the hotel and they are looking for a special experience, I know you specialize in putting packages together for people to come in. Tell us a little bit about some of the packages that you have and some of your most favorite ones that you do on an ongoing basis.
We have packages all year round. We have Suite Escape packages that focus on families and some suite components. We’re doing The Seven Loves of Peninsula, which has been a hugely successful campaign for us but we’re taking everything that Peninsula is known for, whether it be cuisine, cocktails, transportation, community, art, and culture. With the package, you get to choose 1 of the 7 activities that are focused around the things that the Peninsula is known for. You’re surprised by what people choose, but the most popular is the dim sum class. You get to see how to create some authentic dim sum cuisine. Also, the cocktail making class is popular as well.
That sounds a lot of fun. Are these one-on-one or just you and whoever’s teaching it? Are they small groups? How are you doing that?
It depends on how many guests are in-house that select the packages, but I don’t think there have ever been more than six people with either the chef for the mixologist. They’re intimate classes and if you’re lucky enough and nobody else likes that package, you’re the only one.
Max, you’ve been in Chicago for a long time and you love the city. What are some things that you love to do, some bucket list items that our readers might want to do if they travel and stay at The Peninsula, and then it gets to explore the city? Do you have any favorite things that you like to do?
A lot of people don’t realize that Chicago is right on Lake Michigan and the park district is dedicated to everything on the east side of Lake Shore Drive. We have eleven miles at least of beaches along the lakefront and there’s nothing better than being at the hotel here at Peninsula Chicago or on Michigan Avenue and walking just for 4 or 5 blocks. It’s purely a little tunnel and you’re on Oak Street Beach. You can jump in the water, lay on the beach, and soak up the sun, and right behind you is John Hancock and the skyline. I don’t know of any other city that has that accessibility. The lakefront pass goes all the way the length of the city. You can rent one of the Divvy bikes that we have here near the hotel, either electric or the traditional pedal bikes. You can go up and down the lakefront path and see all the different beaches and parks along the lakefront. It is Chicago’s backyard in my opinion.
It sounds like the perfect summer day for me for sure.
We can pack up a picnic for you and take with you your blanket if you’d like. We’ll hook you up with the best gourmet picnic you can imagine along the lakefront. The water is blue and it’s crystal clear. You can see all the way from the bottom of the beach extends all in the water so you can do waiting. If you like golf, there’s a nine-hole golf course. There are tons of tennis courts and volleyball courts. You name it, we’ve got the activity for you.
I love that idea. I love the picnic. That is wonderful.
It’s not your normal every day picnic either. Also, there’s a lot of marinas. We have the second most boat slips in the US behind San Diego. Boating is popular, either along the Chicago River that cuts through downtown or out to the lakefront. All these are more spring to fall activities. In wintertime, we have some of the best museums in the world, whether it be an art museum or field museum. The Museum of Contemporary Art is within a couple of blocks from the hotel. There’s also the Science and Industry Museum and Chicago History Museum. The Shedd Aquarium is by far one of the largest and best aquariums in the nation. It overlooks Lake Michigan, so you see the dolphin jumping in the aquarium and the lake as your backdrop.
You sound like a general manager, but you also sound like an incredible tour guide. You sound like we could walk out of The Peninsula with you and see the entire city in an afternoon.
The concierge at your property must be busy all day.
Secretly, what I want to do when I retire is either be a tour guide or concierge, especially in Chicago because I’m passionate about it.
What is the We Meet Again program?
The We Meet Again program is another package that we offer that was geared towards recovery from the COVID pandemic, which took a big hit to the hospitality industry. It was a way to promote staycations and drive-in markets as people were venturing back out to travel. It was a way to get back a little bit to our locals and let them come to experience the hotel at a great value.
What new normals or changes do you think that you’ve made? How many of these will stay implemented as you move forward? Are the changes you’ve made temporary? Are there things where you’re like, “This makes sense. Let’s just continue to do this.”
Some of the temporary changes such as wearing masks in public spaces, I hope will go away eventually because they’re uncomfortable and it’s hard to give great hospitality. Part of what we do is look in your eyes, smile, engage, shake hands, and that type of thing. We have to work extra hard at making those connections when we’re behind masks. Some of the protocols like extra sanitation that we have done as far as wiping down high touch point areas, those will probably stay because those are some good hygiene practices even during flu season and that type of thing. Washing your hands a little bit more, doing different sanitization in the rooms, and things like that when people check out might stay around because it’s good practice.
How about the registration processes like touchless registration and things like that?
Peninsula is encouraging touchless check-in and setting up reservations where you don’t have to stop at the front desk and swipe a credit card or show your ID, especially for returning guests who we know. We’ll make sure that all we have to do is give them a key. We’re not quite to the technology of using an app on your phone to check in and that type of thing, but we’ll get there. We’re working on it. It’s in the works.
My phone never seems to have a charge anyway so that wouldn’t do me any good. I like a traditional key.
Max, turning back to outdoor activities, I understand that you’re into endurance sports. Give us some examples of what you can do around Chicago. If some of our audiences are looking to do something active, what are some of your favorite things?
The best thing about Chicago for endurance sports is it’s flat. There’s not a lot of hills anywhere. If you want to do the Chicago triathlon, it’s an incredible experience to do it right downtown Chicago. You swim right Lake Michigan, grab your bike, and bike up and down Lake Shore Drive, which is flat. You run all the way around the museum campus on the south side along the bike trail there. Relatively speaking, it’s an easy triathlon if you’re comparing it to other parts of the world.
That’s a great bucket list item if you’re into endurance sports. What time of year is that?
It’s an August. It can be a little bit warm. You plow through it. It’s early in the morning so it’s not as horrible as midday.
We want to tell our readers that The Peninsula Hotel has been gracious enough to give us a giveaway, a one-night deluxe stay with breakfast for two. Thank you, Max, for doing that. That’s gracious of you. For our readers, if you’re interested in signing up and trying to win that, go to Destination-Everywhere.com and sign up on our email list. We’ll pick a winner here coming up. Max, we wrap up with each guest with our rapid-fire questions. We are trying to get people like you who travel and have seen the world to give our readers great activities, things that they have done, and tips on how they travel. Are you ready for our questions?
I think so. I’m a little nervous.
The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your bucket list? If so, what was it?
That’s an easy one. We were talking about the triathlon. After completing a couple of triathlons, I decided on my bucket list to do a half Ironman, so I did. I completed a half Ironman. One-half Ironman was my first and will definitely be my last. There’s no full Ironman.
Where were you? Where did you do it?
In Benton Harbor, Michigan. It was a great location, but I would have to quit my job in order to ever do that again or complete the full Ironman. It was a great experience.
If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
I haven’t been to everywhere that I want to go yet, but definitely somewhere in the Mediterranean. South of France, Greece or maybe in rural Turkey, but I love the Mediterranean. I love the climate and the weather. That blue water is intriguing to me. You have to do a little bit of Italy. I have a few more places to explore before I commit.
If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, who would it be?
This isn’t cerebral, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way but I’m going to say, Matthew McConaughey. He always seems like he’s up for an adventure and he would be open to anything. I and him have a good time and travel around.
He’s a great choice. We haven’t had that one before. The next question is, when packing for a trip, what is something that you pack that may surprise our readers?
The first thing that comes to my mind, and it’s not going to resonate cerebrally, but every vacation, every time I board a plane, I buy a current copy of People Magazine and I read it from cover to cover. It’s my little guilty pleasure.
I used to do the same thing because that’s the only crossword puzzle I can finish.
Me, too. Forget the New York Times. The People crossword puzzle.
Give me pop culture any day over current events.
Max, that is a great tip. Finally, what is your most memorable experience in the great City of Chicago? Do you have one that stands out?
I’ve had many because there are many memorable things to do in Chicago. I have to say, me and my partner decided that it was long overdue to get married. Gay marriage became legal and we had been procrastinating so we decided to go ahead and do it. We were going to go to the courthouse and make it legal since we’ve been together so long. Our regional vice president and general manager here at The Peninsula surprised us with a special wedding ceremony in our Packard car that drove us to a special location. We had several of our friends there. There’s champagne, flowers and a cake, and we had no idea that was going to happen. It’s by far the most memorable experience I’ve had.
What a great experience. Congratulations.
I’ve got one more question that I always have to ask people on the hotel side. What is the strangest request you’ve ever had from a hotel guest?
I’m not even going to say it because I’ve had many strange requests. I’m racking my brain to pick which one’s appropriate and which one to budge in.
You don’t have to say names.
There are many of them that I can’t say because they’re inappropriate. It was somebody quite famous. It was several years ago and when Kabbalah was big. I don’t remember if you remember Kabbalah. Red bracelet, Kabbalah water, and the whole nine yards. This one particular guest only could have Kabbalah water in her suite. There was enough Kabbalah water and she bathed in it and drank it. I get a request from the managers saying, “We’re running out of Kabbalah water. We need Kabbalah water.” I’m like, “Where in Chicago do you find Kabbalah water?” I had to thank God for Google. I tried to find and I got connected with the Kabbalah Institute in Los Angeles and they said, “Absolutely. We can airship you Kabbalah water.” They’re like, “Which Kabbalah water do you want?” I’m like, “There are different Kabbalah waters?” We went back and found out which Kabbalah water, which was blessed by which minister or whatever. That take about twelve hours but we got all the Kabbalah water that the guest needed.
Max, thank you for your time. You’ve been an absolutely great guest. If our readers want to learn more about The Peninsula Chicago, where should they go to learn that?
If you want to look at all ten properties, you can go to Peninsula.com or specifically Chicago, you can go to Peninsula.com/chicago. Also on social media @ThePeninsulaChi. It’s all of our social media channels.
We look forward to meeting you in person in Chicago some time. We greatly appreciate you joining us here on the show. Thanks, Max.
It was my pleasure. Thank you.
This episode is Chicago. This is an amazing city with so much to do. I’d like to thank Chef Sarah from Monteverde for joining us. I love talking to her. She seems like someone I would want to go out and have a cocktail with and just gab.
Max Schroeder from Peninsula as well.
Max Schroeder was amazing. You could tell in my question about the weirdest request. I want to know some of the inappropriate ones. That’s what I want to find out. He was reluctant to say which is professional, but I’m like, “The juice.” It was great and The Peninsula Hotel is amazing. Just in my first-hand experience, it’s always been one of my favorite properties, especially in Chicago, which has many great properties.
Max gave us some great bucket list items, too. He talked about doing a half Ironman in Michigan. He said there’s an annual triathlon in Michigan, which sounds like a great bucket list item to do. We talked about an evening stroll with your camera and making sure that you have real loose experience at the Greenville jazz club or the modern crime tours, which is another one that came up that we thought would be a great one to do if you visit Chicago. He talked about the Chicago Food Festival as well.
I’ve been to the Chicago Food Festival and I’ll definitely go back. Go hungry because you’ll want to try everything. Also, Obama Kissing Rock.
We have to go do that and go see that. If you’re someone that’s somewhat of a risk-taker, the drag racing on Lower Lower Wacker is something that is a little subversive and a little different and something that you do on Friday nights so you might want to check that out.
If you got big wallets, you’ve got the helicopter tours to John Hancock and you got Wrigley Field. It could be all yours for the right price, so that’s an amazing experience.
Remember, Wednesday is free at the Garfield Park Conservatory which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful green spaces in all of Chicago, so definitely check that out if you get there. One thing I definitely want to do is taking a comedy class at Second City where Stephen Colbert and some of the comedic greats have come from.
One that Max mentioned is the custom picnic on a gorgeous day and then get on one of those electric bikes. I can have The Peninsula pack me a picnic basket with everything I want, and then just go down Lake Shore, find a spot, and hang out. To me, that sounds like a great day.
We have not just 1, but 2 giveaways from Destination Everywhere Chicago. We have a swag bag from Choose Chicago with all great Chicago-themed items and also a one-night stay with breakfast and a deluxe room for The Peninsula Chicago. Make sure you go to Destination-Everywhere.com and sign up for your chance to win. It’ll be great to give that to one of our subscribers, so thank you.
Thank you again for joining us on this edition of Destination Everywhere Chicago. It’s an absolutely amazing city. We’d like to thank our special team who helps us put this together. We’ve got Chris Jordan, our copywriter, Guy Quattlebaum, who is a content developer, Annie Fernandez, our creative director, and of course, the amazing Lauren Campbell, who is our podcast producer. Please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review on whatever platform you’re following us on. If you need any feedback requests from us, please be sure to visit us at www.Destination-Everywhere.com. Thank you for joining us and be safe.
- The Peninsula Chicago
- Z Bar
- Chef Baasim – LinkedIn
- We Meet Again
- @ThePeninsulaChi – Facebook
- Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio
- Meg Sahs – LinkedIn
- @MonteverdiChi – Instagram
- Choose Chicago
About Sarah Grueneberg
Since her childhood cooking with her grandparents on their ranch in Victoria, Texas, Sarah Grueneberg knew she was destined to work in the culinary world. Originally from Houston, Grueneberg moved to Chicago in 2005 to join the team at the award-winning Spiaggia under the leadership of Tony Mantuano. Beginning as a line cook, she quickly rose the ranks to Chef di Cucina in 2008 and then Executive Chef in 2010. During her tenure as Executive Chef, Spiaggia was awarded one Michelin Star for three consecutive years.
After graduating from culinary school in 2001, she started her first career-changing job with a position at the iconic Brennan’s of Houston and by 2003 was named the restaurant’s youngest female sous chef. Grueneberg has traveled throughout Italy, Asia, Europe and the U.S., which has inspired her culinary approach of “following the food” and truly understanding “the dish” by knowing the people and culture that created it.
About Max Schroeder
Max Schroeder was named Hotel Manager of The Peninsula Chicago in January 2018. He oversees the day to day operation of the hotel as well as ensuring the service levels and attention to detail remain at the highest levels possible to maintain the hotel’s five-star, luxury status.
Max Schroeder’s career in the hotel industry began in 2002 as Sales Manager at Chicago’s Le Meridien and in 2003 he joined The Peninsula Chicago as Sales Manager. After two years, Schroeder took a position as the Regional Director of Sales for Jumierah Hotels and then was hired to be on the opening team for the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago. Schroeder then rejoined The Peninsula Chicago in 2010 and was appointed Director of Corporate Sales.
Max grew up on a farm near a small town in Iowa and moved to Chicago in 1995. He currently lives on the northside of Chicago with his husband Jerry and their cat, Pearl. They enjoy participating in endurance sports, including triathlons.
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