George Les is an American success story achieved in Oak Lawn. One of two of the locally famous “Les Brothers,” George has been running the same-named restaurant at 87th Street and Ridgeland with his brother, Angelo, and assorted family members for 40 years.
This past Saturday, he was named the Oak Lawn Chamber’s outstanding member and business person of the year, a completely unexpected honor.
“[Les Brothers] is an Oak Lawn institution,” chamber member Anne Marie Casey said in her introductory remarks. “It’s a place where George treats every customer that comes into his business like they are friends and family, even if they are first-time customers. If you have been there, you know.”
Les’s rise began when he was 10 years old, immigrating from Greece with his parents to the United States in 1967. Growing up in Marquette Park, he and his brother, Angelo, learned the restaurant business from their dad, Bill.
“For five years, my dad ran a restaurant with his brothers, also called Les Brothers, in Toronto,” Les said. “He was working to save money to bring the family over. He came and got us and we came to Chicago.”
George landed his first restaurant gig bussing tables in a small, South Side steakhouse when he was 12.
In 1974, he and brother Angelo went to work for their father when Bill opened the original Les Brothers at 87th Street and Ridgeland in Oak Lawn.
“My father was the chef,” George Les recalled. “My brother was 14, and I was 16. We also cooked in the kitchen. I worked in the front as a manager. We did what we had to do to survive.”
George and Angelo took over the 87th Street location from their father in their thirties, who wanted to spend part of the year in Greece. They worked 16-hour days to bring Les Brothers and the family business to the the next level by opening four more restaurants in Hickory Hills, Homer Glen and New Lenox.
The second Les Brothers on 95th Street and Roberts Road in Hickory Hills reopened last week four months to the day after an electrical fire last summer.
The family is also active in all the communities where they have businesses, sponsoring and supporting local causes and events.
“When we came to the United States we came with a shirt, a pair of pants and shoes,” Les said. “This country has been beautiful to us.”
George is particularly passionate about Westside Baseball, where sons Bill and Jim played in the league for 14 years growing up.
Like his own father did for him and his brother, George Les is ready to hand over the business to the next generation so that he, too, can spend time in Greece.
“What’s better than family,” he asks. “Nothing. I’m not going to yell when you make a mistake. We’ll correct it and you’ll learn. You give advice and teach them.”