Josh Downey started selling giardiniera as a way to pay off his student loan bills in 2009, he said.
But the Buffalo Grove native said he’s been making local Italian specialities and condiments since he was a kid. That’s when he first came up with the name “Chicago Johnny’s” as a restaurant idea as part of a grade school story he wrote.
“It seemed like all giardiniera was pretty much the same,” Downey said, “so I started making my own. Since then I’ve been carving out my niche. This is what I was meant to do.”
Between when he first filed for business in 2011 and now, Downey said he’s been selling his products at festivals and catering, even out of the trunk of his car. In recent years, he has been able to distribute his condiments and spices – that includes barbecue sauces, spice blends and candied jalapenos – to restaurants in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Downey found a permanent storefront for his business, “Chicago Johnny’s,” last November. Due to supply chain issues, however, he wasn’t able to begin a soft opening until late June. Located in Lake in the Hills, Downey sells variety of condiments and spices popular in the Chicago region.
Downey described himself as more of a creator than a salesman and said his passion for giardiniera has led to some amazing creations – Downey takes pride in his stuffed meatloaf recipe – as well as some misfires.
“I tried to mix olive oil, giardiniera and malort, and strained out the malort so it was giardiniera infused,” Downey said. “That’s probably the worst thing I ever tried.”
Downey said he hopes to expand the business in future months, to include Italian sausage in the store’s inventory and possibly sell sandwiches out of a hot dog cart at events.
After what Downey described as a “nightmare” period in which everything from glass to carrots to oil was delayed, getting ingredients and packing materials is back to “normal” levels now.
The Lake in the Hills store, located at 9180 Trinity Drive, is open Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.