Our Partnerships

Paul "Pauly" Graves
Pauly Graves has served as the welcoming face of the bar at Gemini Bistro, a neighborhood gem in Chicago's Lincoln Park, since the restaurant opened its doors in 2009. He keeps his cocktail philosophy rooted in the classics, but every recipe twist has a little story associated with it—from The Heater, a spicy margarita he originally started making for a member of law enforcement who frequents the restaurant; or The Squirtsky, his house made version of a citrusy vodka drink friend and Owner Ryan O'Donnell used to serve up at parties. Graves amuses guests, many of them once- or twice-a-week regulars, with these tales of their favorite cocktails while effortlessly mixing up drinks with a liberal hand and sans pretension. "When our guests come in, they know they're getting a friendly environment to enjoy a drink that's well-poured," he says. "It’s about balance, but it’s also about serving something generous at an appropriate price."

It was at that time that he reconnected with O'Donnell, who was preparing to open a restaurant in Miami's South Beach and wanted to invite Graves down for a three-month stint to launch the bar program. Afterward, Graves moved back to New York and worked at The Smith, a cocktail-centric American brasserie on the Lower East Side, until he received another call from O'Donnell saying that he planned to open up a concept in Chicago and wanted to recruit Graves again for the beverage menu and staff training. So Graves packed up for what he thought would be a quick trip to the Midwest in July 2009. He helped open Gemini Bistro two months later—and he's still manning the bar today.

"Pauly is the quintessential bar man. You want to see him on a nightly basis, providing the warmth and atmosphere of celebration. He has always been the life of the party, dating back to our days in college together, where he was my pledge father. Pauly played a major role in creating and building the business of what Gemini would become and certainly what Gemini is today."
-Ryan O'Donnell

Billy Lawless
Coda di Volpe
Born and raised in Galway, Ireland, Billy Lawless comes from a family long immersed in the hospitality industry. He moved to Chicago in 1997 and since this time has established a collection of restaurants known as Gage Hospitality Group (GHG) comprising Acanto, Coda di Volpe, The Dawson, and The Gage. GHG’s restaurants each have their own personality featuring rustic yet refined fare, skillfully curated and crafted libations, thoughtfully designed spaces to encourage conversation and conviviality and superb hospitality.

Lawless’s original Michigan Avenue concept includes The Gage, the iconic restaurant steps from Millennium Park and The Art Institute. Established in 2007, The Gage offers rustic American fare in a refined, lively setting, and is complemented by an award-winning beverage program. Acanto, located next to The Gage, serves authentic, regional Italian cuisine based upon seasonality. Established in 2014, (it is in the location previously known as Henri), Acanto’s award-winning wine program features 600+ bottles from all 20 regions of Italy.

Breathing culinary life into the Southport Corridor, Lawless partnered with longtime friend Ryan O’Donnell to open Coda di Volpe in July 2016 in the Southport Corridor neighborhood. The Southern Italian restaurant has instantly become a neighborhood favorite, and a dining destination for Chicagoans, serving Neapolitan pizzas, house-made pasta, house-cured meats, and more.

"Life with Billy has been nothing short of pure amusement. As a partner and friend, Billy has taught me to take the high road in times of conflict. He has shown me how to cherish the journey and reserve energy for greater things...such as the golf course!"
-Ryan O'Donnell

Gray McNally
Old Pueblo Cantina
Although McNally was always interested in culinary arts, it wasn’t until after graduating with honors from St. Andrews University in Scotland with a master’s degree in Economics and International Relations that he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. Upon returning to his hometown of Chicago in 2002, Chef McNally graduated from Le Cordon Bleu’s Culinary Arts program before gaining experience at nationally recognized, award-winning restaurants including Spiaggia, BOKA, one sixtyblue and Ria at the former Elysian Hotel. After many years helming kitchens across Chicago, Gray discovered a new passion: farming.

In 2015 Gray and his wife, Jodi, founded Vintage Prairie Farm. The farm is operated by the principles of biodiversity, ecological balance, compost fertilization, all-natural pest control, sustainability, and healthy soil life, and the farm’s commitment to these principles has led it to partnering with some of Chicago’s finest restaurants – including Ballyhoo Hospitality.

McNally is currently a partner in Old Pueblo Cantina and an investor in Andros Taverna. McNally was the opening Chef and Partner of the Tortoise Club and was part of the opening culinary team at the Elysian Hotel and the 2 Michelin star Ria restaurant. Early in his career, Gray also served as Sous Chef at the Michelin-starred Boka.

“Gray spurred the motivation for Old Pueblo with his vision for the special corner at Racine and Webster in Lincoln Park.With Gray’s extensive knowledge and experience in the restaurant industry, he has provided a partnership that has helped shape our concept at Old Pueblo. Having a partner that owns Vintage Prairie Farms, some of the best produce in the Midwest, is an added bonus that our chefs are always excited about.”
-Ryan O'Donnell

Glenn Keefer
Sophia Steak
In 1969, Glenn Keefer started his restaurant career as a busboy in Amityville, NY. He took a brief detour to work as a commercial fisherman on an offshore lobster boat to pay for college tuition. But after he survived the sinking of his ship 30 miles off the coast of Montauk Point, NY, Keefer decided it was better to sell the fish in a restaurant than to catch it. Some 50 years later that decision has served him well with numerous award-winning restaurants, accolades and industry policy-changing achievements on his resume. This spring, Keefer brings his extensive restaurant experience and knowledge to Wilmette’s Sophia Steak, a new neighborhood steakhouse scheduled to open spring 2020.

Keefer began his Chicago restaurant career in 1980 when he was recruited by The Palm Chicago’s opening team to work as bartender at age 24. His 12 years at the popular Gold Coast restaurant, which counted the city’s who’s-who as its regulars, helped set the stage for Keefer’s eternal love for steakhouses as well plant some creative seeds for future ventures. It was also while working at the Palm that Keefer met Bill O’Donnell, whose son, Ryan, would play an important role in Keefer’s career.

In 1992, Keefer opened the Chicago Ruth’s Chris Steak House and was later promoted to Vice President of Operations for the largest of the company’s franchise groups. With eight restaurants under his watch, Keefer had one foot in human resources and the other in operations.

Armed with insider knowledge and insights, Keefer, along with his brother, Richard, and Jimmy de Castro, opened Keefer's Restaurant in 2001. At the River North restaurant, they expanded on the traditional steakhouse scenario, offering both wet- and dry-aged steaks. Acclaimed Chef John Hogan’s menu featured a number of French-leaning dishes too. Keefer served as the restaurant’s Managing Partner from 2001 to 2014. During that time Keefer's was Ranked “Best of Chicago for Steak” by The Food Network, one of the “Top Ten Steak Houses in the U.S.“ by Playboy Magazine.

In 2012, Keefer was awarded "Restaurateur of the Year" by the Illinois Restaurant Association and installed as Corporate Secretary of IRA in 2014. Keefer was also recipient of the Dennis F. Kelly award from Catholic Charities, given to a member of the Board of Advisors in recognition of his or her service to the poor. Keefer's Restaurant served over 30 thousand meals to the homeless.

With a strong desire to further expand the boundaries of what a steakhouse can be, Keefer has partnered with fellow restaurateur Ryan O’Donnell of Ballyhoo Hospitality to open Sophia Steak. Their friendship and mutual admiration began when O’Donnell worked for Keefer at his River North restaurant. It’s only grown stronger since. At their new restaurant, the duo is excited to bring a neighborhood steakhouse to Wilmette, offering a menu with wallet-friendly options as well as great steaks and a to-go menu in which every detail has been precisely executed.

"Glenn, a legend in the steak world of Chicago, was my very first mentor. I started with him in the kitchen at Keefer’s and he eventually moved me to the front of the house. I credit Glenn with my shift in career path from chef to restauranteur. Perhaps more importantly, I also own Glenn a bigger credit, having met my wife Anna early on in our careers at Keefers. Life has come full circle with our partnership at Sophia Steak in Wilmette, and soon to be Pomeroy in Winnetka."
-Ryan O'Donnell

Doug Psaltis
Andros Taverna
Doug Psaltis is a chef and restaurateur with more than twenty years of experience running some of the country's most esteemed establishments. His expertise and insight into restaurant concept development with both front and back-of-the house operations has made him a much sought-after specialist throughout the country and internationally.

As a chef, Psaltis worked with some of the best chefs in the world including Alain Ducasse, Dan Barber, David Bouley and Thomas Keller. He earned acclaim at several of New York City's best restaurants, including Country (at which he earned a Michelin Star), Alain Ducasse's miX and ADNY (which was awarded three Michelin Stars), Bouley Bakery, and several others. He documented his experiences as a young chef in his first book, a memoir titled The Seasoning of a Chef, which was published by Random House when he was just thirty years old.

As a restaurateur, Psaltis was a partner in several of Chicago's most successful and exceptional restaurants, including the RPM Restaurant Group (RPM Italian, RPM Steak, RPM on the Water, and RPM seafood, as well as RPM Italian in DC); Pizzeria Portofino, Sushi San; Two Ramen San locations and Ramen San Deluxe; Two Bub City Barbecue locations; Joe's Live; Il Porcellino; Three Dots and a Dash Tiki-Bar; and Bar Ramone. In addition to being a partner and co-creator of these restaurants, Psaltis was also a chef managing partner for Lettuce Entertain You, overseeing and operating these popular restaurants and consulting on several others. He is also the co-founder of the Windy City Smokeout, the award-winning and wildly popular barbecue and country music festival.

Psaltis began working with Ryan O'Donnell this past year consulting on Ballyhoo Hospitality's current properties; Coda di Volpe, Sophia Steakhouse, Gemini and Old Pueblo. He has worked with the team to implement systems, develop menus and streamline operational efficiencies.

With his years of expertise in the restaurant business combined with his knowledge in various cuisines, Psaltis has a unique ability to create concepts for specific neighborhoods. His discipline from fine-dining and experience with high volume restaurants provides him with the ability to create restaurants that operate with the highest level of efficiencies. The entire dining experience is thought out from conception, design, menu development to daily operations.

“It has been nice to find a counterpart with the creative ability that Doug provides. We speak the same language when it comes to writing menus, architectural design, floor layouts, menu design, and hospitality. Coming in during a pandemic, Doug wasn’t afraid to assist Ballyhoo with the art of the pivot, by helping adjust menus and develop programs that are geared towards take-out and to-go. The future is bright with Doug as a partner, starting with Andros Taverna in Logan Square.”
-Ryan O'Donnell