When James Jodoin, better known as Jimmy, opened his Italian restaurant, Jimmy’s Place, at 7411 Madison St. in 1998, one of his first regular customers was the Mauro family.
The Elmwood Park family liked the red checkered tablecloth restaurant so much that they marked special occasions there.
“For our family, I think they put on the extra wing,” Jeff Mauro joked.
Little did Jodoin know Mauro would make a splash in the food business as well – and take Jimmy’s Place on part of his remarkable journey. On Aug. 14, Mauro was crowned the Next Food Network Star in that series’ seventh season on the cable TV channel.
Mauro’s new show, “Sandwich King” – yep, he turns every dish into a sandwich – premiered two weeks ago. And on Sept. 18, Mauro will be showing viewers how to make a Chicken Vesuvio sandwich, based on the dish Jodoin has made into a customer favorite in Forest Park.
“Their Chicken Vesuvio is great,” Mauro said. “It was one of my inspirations.”
Back in July, under a shroud of secrecy, Mauro and a Food Network TV film crew visited Jimmy’s Place to shoot the footage that will be featured on Sept. 18. (The Forest Park Review published an article about the event, last month.)
“We filmed in here that night,” Jodoin said. “We were open and it was crazy in here – fun, high energy. It was like a Friday night on a Thursday. The word was out that he was coming here.”
Although customers packed the place on that Thursday night to see Mauro, whose exploits were being followed closely on “The Next Food Network Star,” they didn’t know that Mauro actually had been crowned the champ already. He was spending five days in the Chicago area, hitting 3-4 locations a day for his pilot series.
He made sure Jimmy’s Place was on the list.
“I would much rather give publicity to Jimmy’s and show what a fine establishment it is,” said Mauro.
A month later, when the competition series’ finale was aired, Jimmy’s again was packed.
“It was really fun,” said Jodoin. “When he finally won, the place erupted into cheers. I’m very proud of him. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Rating Mauro’s performance on the TV show, Jodoin said that his friend was clearly among the top three in the 15-person field.
“He’s good, too,” said Jodoin. “He’s smooth. I was watching from the beginning and the 15 people were all like pros. But I thought he was in the top three. It was close.”
While this will be Jodoin’s first appearance on a Food TV show, it’s not his first brush with television. Previously, The Learning Channel (TLC) filmed at the restaurant for eight hours for a show about a family-owned restaurant. One of several possible restaurants considered for the show, Jimmy’s Place was chosen by the network, said Jodoin, but the show never moved forward.
But that will change at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 18 when Jimmy’s Place gets its time in the spotlight.
Nick Moroni contributed to this article