Iliana Regan, the acclaimed chef and owner behind Elizabeth, has officially departed from her Lincoln Square restaurant. Regan, who opened Elizabeth in 2012, has sold the restaurant to Tim Lacey, a longtime collaborator who has operated it since Regan and her wife Anna Hamlin moved to Michigan in 2019 where they own a bed and breakfast called Milkweed Inn that’s sold out through 2022.
Regan announced her departure via Elizabeth’s email newsletter on Friday afternoon, thus closing a chapter in Chicago food. Elizabeth allowed diners to enjoy Regan’s distinct forager-style of cooking, which mixed a love for the outdoors and Midwest sensibilities with the technique of a fine-dining chef; the combination would earn it a Michelin star.
Despite what Elizabeth’s newsletter called a “major announcement,” Regan had been discussing her departure with Lacey as far back as November or December 2019, she writes in an email. The pandemic slowed the transition a bit. “I told him if he didn’t want it I would continue to make a place for everyone to continue working until we knew more about what was happening but he still wanted it,” she writes. Lacey assumed sole ownership in August 2020, but with pandemic-related closing mandates coming and going, they waited until the restaurant could stay open long enough to develop a rhythm before making the news public.
“During COVID, while doing takeout, it didn’t make sense to announce it,” Lacey says. “It was time to get our balance, and now things are moving in a good direction.”
The decision shouldn’t come as a shock. For the past few years, Regan has pondered her future in Chicago, and back in 2020, before COVID-19, Regan told the New York Times that closing Elizabeth would provide relief from mounting financial pressures. “A big part of this was trying to narrow my focus,” she writes. “Of course I’m still busy as heck. I’ll probably always be like this, but not running a restaurant full time with a staff has been a relief. I was getting too burnt out.”
Even in absentia, the day-to-day responsibilities of running a restaurant had weighed on Regan. Even as Lacey ran the restaurant while Regan resided in Michigan, if the state had questions about operations or licensure, Regan says his answers to inspectors and bureaucrats weren’t adequate. City officials wanted Regan for answers. Now, the sale renders that concern moot.
Awards & Press
- James Beard Award
- Michelin 1 Star