John Manion, Executive Chef/Owner
It all began when John Manion moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, when he was 8 years old. With his family he spent the following 5 years soaking in the culture and, most importantly, the food of a place very far from home. While Manion always felt more at home in restaurant kitchens, where he’d worked since age 15, he went on to study English and political science at Marquette University and took a job at a public relations firm in Wash., DC, after college. After a short time, he felt compelled to pursue his love of cooking full-time, so he moved to Chicago to attend the College of Culinary Arts at Kendall College. Recalling the beachside joints of Brazil, Manion, a 20-year veteran of the local restaurant scene, opened the West Loop’s La Sirena Clandestina in 2012. In 2016, he continued his culinary journey with El Che Steakhouse & Bar, a love letter to his travels in Argentina interpreted through the Buenos Aires tradition of live-flame cooking. Manion’s passion for South American flavors animates the spirited dishes and sultry ambiance of both of his restaurants. El Che Steakhouse & Bar has earned a coveted three-star rating from the Chicago Tribune. In 2017, Manion was nominated for “Chef of the Year” at the Jean Banchet Awards and was recognized as a “Master of the Flame” by Phil Vettel in the Tribune’s “Critic’s Choice Dining Awards.”
Daniel Boyd, Partner/Owner
Not everyone can say the 2008 economic downturn had a positive impact on their career. But for Daniel Boyd, who has a background in real estate construction, design and finance, the recession and a serendipitously timed friendship with chef John Manion prompted him to pursue a longtime goal of opening a restaurant. Boyd led the design, construction and execution, while Manion oversaw the culinary concept and creative direction, and conceptualization became reality with the opening of La Sirena Clandestina, a Brazilian-inspired restaurant in the fall of 2012. With the success of the restaurant and their partnership, Manion and Boyd, who is also the founder and principal at Mercurius Design-Development, a real estate firm focused on the acquisition, design and development of commercial properties with a focus on the arts and hospitality, began looking for a second concept. In late 2014, a fortuitous turn of events led to taking possession of the first floor at 845 W. Washington St., a space ripe with history and character. El Che Steakhouse & Bar opened in the summer of 2016 and earned a number of stellar reviews in addition to nominations for several local and national “best new” lists and awards. Boyd is also partner in Funkenhausen, a German-meets-American South restaurant in West Town, which opened in August 2018.
Savannah Witmer, General Manager/Wine Director
As a kid growing up in Frederick, MD, Savannah Witmer spent a lot of time hanging around fine dining restaurants while her mom was at work. When a family friend offered her a job in one of his restaurants, she jumped at the chance—and hasn’t looked back since. A move to Nashville gave Witmer the opportunity to explore other roles in the hospitality industry. In 2011, she moved to Chicago and began working at Boka. She considers the time she spent working at the Lincoln Park restaurant as very influential in her career for the opportunity it provided to taste wines and spirits as well as the mentoring of mixologist Benjamin Schiller. She gained further knowledge during the five years she worked at Sepia both as a bartender and captain for private events. Witmer joined the La Sirena Clandestina team in 2016 working in a variety of positions before landing the dual role of general manager and wine director at sister restaurant El Che Steakhouse & Bar. There she is responsible for a number of service aspects to keep the Argentinian steakhouse running smoothly. Managing the wine list is also a big part of her responsibilities. “At El Che, I have a unique opportunity to show guests the world of South American wine and what is truly beautiful about it,” says Witmer.
Megan Heinowski, Beverage Director
Megan Heinowski has worked in the hospitality industry since was 15, starting in her hometown of Canton, MI. Eventually it was the beverage side of the business to which she found herself drawn. In college, she delved into the world of coffee working as a wholesale rep and a manager at a café and roastery. For her, the progression from coffee to cocktails was a natural one with the same attention to detail prominent in both. She first learned to bartend at River North’s Bavette’s, where she worked her way up from host to beverage director in three years. “Once I started bartending, it became a quick passion,” she says. There, a bar philosophy of precision combined with a focus on classic cocktails is one that sticks with her today. Since joining the team at El Che Steakhouse & Bar in May 2017, Heinowski has expanded on that way of thinking for the Argentine-focused restaurant’s cocktail menu, which represents South American flavors and spirits in a contemporary Midwest setting. “There is so much deep-rooted culture and history that exist in spirits and classic cocktails, which is why my approach in building a menu tends to be focused on letting the ingredients shine through,” she says. At El Che, Heinowski is responsible for spirit purchasing, cocktail preparation and building the bar menu.