Francesca's Fiore, which closed in 2020, is set to reopen as a more simplified pizza-centric eatery, Fiore. File photo

One of Chicago’s most renowned Italian chefs is returning to Forest Park with a new concept born out of the pandemic-related closure of Francesca’s Fiore on Madison Street.

Scott Harris, whose company now operates 14 Francesca’s restaurants and a handful of other dining spots, said the relaunched business at 7407 Madison St. will feature a simplified pizza-centric menu at affordable prices when it opens its doors, he hopes, by the end of the year.

The restaurant’s new name, Fiore, is both an homage to the now-shuttered business and a nod to the newly casual setting, Harris said with a laugh. Fiore is the Italian word for flower, or, in this case, the flour used in pizza dough.

“It’s going to be a place to hang out, have a piece of pie and a glass of wine for less than 20 bucks,” Harris said. “Everybody’s got 20 bucks in their pocket.”

Remodeling work is already underway on the building, which Harris owns, and which had housed Francesca’s Fiore as a full-service traditional Italian restaurant. That business opened in 2001 before closing last October. In the months since, Harris said he’d attempted to rent the space but when those efforts were unsuccessful, he decided to reoccupy the restaurant himself.

In addition to a small dining space, one Harris said he anticipates will seat somewhere between 35 and 40 people, the kitchen at 7407 Madison will be used to produce the fresh pasta served at all Francesca’s locations and will house a company-wide bakery operation led by Leslie Tellez, an acclaimed pastry chef who most recently worked at Flora Farms on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

It is yet to be decided whether the pastries will be sold directly to customers at Fiore, and Harris added that any bakery operation would not be up and running until well after the first of the year, around six weeks after the pizza restaurant opened its doors.

In an interview Nov. 8, Harris said he was “pumped up” about the new concept and said the layout and menu could expand throughout his eponymous company if it is successful in Forest Park. Scott Harris Hospitality currently operates 23 restaurants under six different flagships, including 14 Francesca’s locations throughout Chicagoland.

For Harris, the allure of the new Fiore is in its simplicity and its more cost- and health-conscious menu, quipping that “a big bowl of pasta” isn’t as popular as it once was, particularly among younger diners.

“It’s time to refresh,” he said. “A lot more proteins, a lot more vegetables, a lot more gluten-free items. The kids aren’t eating (the big bowl of pasta) anymore. They’re just not. I get it, I see it.”

The atmosphere figures to be more relaxed, as well, with Harris adding that the wine list will be made up of bottles priced $40 or less with by-the-glass wine served in mason jars. The building is being repainted a clean white inside and out, with the interior in simple reds and whites evoking the old-school Italian eatery look.

No business plan has been submitted to the village for review as of Nov. 5, according to Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke, but Harris said Fiore will likely operate at somewhat reduced lunch and dinner hours, with a plan to close around 8 p.m. nightly, at which time the companywide pasta-making operation can kick into full gear.

Harris, who said he was a former Oak Park resident, expressed a fondness for Forest Park and a hope that his new restaurant would blend smoothly with the rest of the mostly small businesses operating on Madison Street, something he said was being taken into consideration as he weighed whether to sell Tellez’s pastries out of the storefront.

“I always loved that town,” Harris said of Forest Park. “I look up and down the street, there’s so many coffee and pastry shops … There’s so many mom-and-pop places, I don’t want to be digging into their business.”

If the remainder of the facility is not used as a retail bakery and/or coffee shop, Harris said he could imagine the space being made available for family rentals and “pizza parties,” a decision that he said could come in the next couple weeks.