One might be surprised to learn that Chef/Partner Gregory Ellis, 31, initially began his career a graphic artist. After studying at Northern Illinois University, he jumped into the work force as a designer, but it wasn’t long before the St. Charles, Illinois native realized that “cubicle life” didn’t agree with him. He decided to move in a direction that was still art-related, but that allowed for more freedom and a faster pace. With fond childhood memories of cooking with his maternal grandmother – and with natural talent in the kitchen– he decided to pursue a culinary degree from Elgin Community College.
At his first internship at a fine dining restaurant in Chicago’s suburbs, Gregory’s immediately fell in love with the restaurant industry, which led him to pursue an opportunity to stage at the world-renowned Charlie Trotter’s. With a relentless desire to work for the award-winning restaurant, he completed five stages and earned a full-time position in the chef’s kitchen. From 2004 to 2006, he worked every station alongside notable peers Matthias Merges, Giuseppe Tentori, Bill Kim and others.
“I credit my time at Charlie Trotter’s for giving me the foundation to move forward as a chef,” says Gregory. “The quality of the ingredients and precision involved in their preparation has made an indelible impact on how I cook.”
In 2006, Gregory proposed to his now-wife, who lived in Tucson, Arizona. Following his heart, he moved to the desert and immediately accepted a position to work with James Beard Award-winning Chef Janos Wilder, where he served as the sous chef for La Paloma, the chef’s fine dining restaurant, and J Bar, a more casual outpost. There, Gregory found himself in a constant exchange with his colleagues, them teaching him everything they knew about Southwestern cuisine, and he bringing the French technique and finesse he had acquired at Charlie Trotter’s to the menu.
Gregory and his wife moved back to Chicago in 2007, where he began working for Pastoral, a European-inspired cheese, specialty food and wine shop offering domestic and international specialty cheeses, freshly baked breads and more. He started as a cheesemonger, and established the sandwich program at the company’s first location. As the company grew, he came to manage the Loop and Lakeview stores, overseeing ordering, restaurant accounts, demonstrations and outside catering events. He also visited creameries and learned to make fresh and aged cheeses. Gregory stayed with Pastoral until April 2011, and left to pursue his dream of opening 2 Sparrows with childhood friend and partner Steven Fladung.
“Pastoral was an incredible experience,” says Gregory. “I was exposed to all aspects of a dynamic, growing business environment; I couldn’t have asked for a better primer to opening our restaurant.”
At 2 Sparrows, Gregory brings breakfast, lunch, and gastrobrunch fare to the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. He utilizes the techniques upon which he was formally trained to present contemporary American comfort food, sourcing locally and presenting them in a continually evolving menu that includes housemade signatures like corned beef; pop tarts; giant pork belly, fried egg and cheese biscuits; and more.
“It’s important to us that we support local agriculture and businesses as much as possible, not just with our food, but with our design and beverage program, as well,” says Gregory. “I’ll be working with farmers in our own backyard to utilize the most seasonal products available – and we’re opening at just the right time to showcase the bounty of the harvest. I have a million ideas and can’t wait to bring them to life for our guests.”