Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! is the brainchild of renowned Chef Gabino Sotelino, in collaboration with Lettuce Entertain You Founder, Rich Melman established on December 26, 1985. The two had first teamed up at the Pump Room, and then worked together to open LEYE’s original fine dining concept, Ambria, in 1980, followed by the French bistro Un Grand Café (now Mon Ami Gabi – “My Friend Gabino”). When Sotelino pitched the idea of Spanish small-plates dining to LEYE, Melman was skeptical at first.
“Maybe it was my English or maybe it was my presentation of the idea,” Sotelino says. “At one point he thought I was asking to open a Spanish topless bar, and he told me I was completely crazy! I explained to him, ‘no, don’t worry it’s not a topless bar! Don’t worry, I will show you!’”
Sotelino felt that the city of Chicago needed a taste of Spain in the restaurant scene, and he took great pride in representing the culture and gastronomy of his home to the people of Chicago. He went to great lengths to achieve authenticity, even arranging for a wood-burning oven to be flown in from Madrid. Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! has made tapas, the hot and cold appetizers of Spain, an integral element of Chicago’s dining scene.
“When we opened, the neighborhood was not the desirable residential and commercial area that it is now, and we were one of the only hot restaurants for years,” shared General Manager Mark Sotelino, Chef Gabino Sotelino’s son who began working at his father’s restaurant at a young age. “Now busier than ever, we’re excited to maintain Spanish traditions and authenticity while continually trying to stay fresh and renew the menu with modern, avant-garde techniques that have made the Spanish cuisine of the past 10 years so highly regarded.”
Originally from Oak Park, Chef Eric Jorgensen attended Kendall College and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Management. A few years after graduation, he took a job as Executive Sous Chef at the Chicago location of SushiSamba, and then was quickly promoted to the New York City stores. At SushiSamba, Jorgensen executed a diverse menu celebrating the cuisine of Japan, Brazil and Peru, which allowed him to develop his own cooking style of incorporating ingredients from different cultures into his dishes. In 2011, Jorgensen moved on to The Mermaid Oyster Bar in New York where he was the Chef de Cuisine, responsible for creating seasonal menus highlighting sustainable seafood.
Chef Jorgensen moved back to Chicago and signed on with the Lettuce Entertain You family in 2014 as Sous Chef at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! in Lincoln Park. After two years, he took an opportunity as Executive Chef Hannah’s Bretzel to expand his knowledge of the fast-casual side of the restaurant industry. Missing the creative environment of a traditional restaurant kitchen, he brought his experience back to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! in 2017 where he took the lead as Executive Chef. When he’s not at work, he enjoys fishing with his brothers, dining out in Chicago and spending time with his girlfriend and their adopted English Bulldogs, Commis and Cheddar.