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 Minneapolis, Chef Matt Holmes attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute which led him to jobs at top hotels and resorts in both Arizona and Minnesota. In 2013 he moved to Chicago to start his career with Lettuce Entertain You, first as Executive Chef at Mon Ami Gabi in Lincoln Park, followed by Executive Chef at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! soon after.
Chef Holmes has worked hard to maintain original Spanish menu items while at the same time pushing forward and exploring new, creative dishes. He enjoys the creative aspect of being a chef – the ability to create a memorable experience for guests – and also the teaching and coaching aspect of developing cooks and sous chefs.
On his days off, Chef Holmes enjoys exploring other Chicago restaurants with his wife Megan. They live in Edgewater with their son Anson (and two bulldogs, Frank and Gertie).