When Christopher Zucchero heard that his childhood friend was writing a television show about his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago, he reacted by sarcastically remarking: “Oh, I bet it’ll be a big hit.”
He now acknowledges that he’s been forced to take back his skepticism after the show became the hit FX series The Bear, and business at Zucchero’s Mr Beef shop has boomed like never before, he recounted in an interview Sunday with CBS.
“We’ve been very blessed here because of that show,” Zucchero said as he shared the entertaining anecdote on CBS’s Sunday Morning. “And it’s all because of that show.”
Zucchero’s father, Joseph, founded the sandwich joint which inspired The Bear in 1979. Its wet, meaty, pepper-filled offerings helped it become a local landmark over the years. Hollywood notables such as Jay Leno, Joe Mantegna and the late Paul Newman were among its devoted customers.
More recently one of Christopher Zucchero’s former grade school classmates – Christopher Storer – told him he planned to set a TV series around the place.
“He’d said to me: ‘I’m starting to write this show, and I guarantee it’s going to be based on this place’,” Zucchero, who grew up to co-own Mr Beef with his father, said to Sunday Morning correspondent Tracy Smith. “And I did say condescendingly to him: ‘Oh, I bet it’ll be a big hit.’ I did say that.”
Zucchero could never imagine how off the mark his good-natured verbal jab would be. Centering on a fictional, Michelin-caliber chef desperately trying to reverse the flagging fortunes of a sandwich shop which he inherited after an unexpected death in his family, The Bear has earned more than a dozen primetime Emmy award nominations while generating big ratings for FX since its first season aired in 2022.
Part of the show – recently renewed for a third season – was filmed at the Mr Beef shop. And Christopher Zucchero himself has gotten to appear in one scene opposite the series’s star, Jeremy Allen White.
Unsurprisingly, it’s all enabled Mr Beef to be a magnet drawing in both locals and tourists, including international ones. Where Mr Beef would once sell about 300 sandwiches daily, its staff has grown accustomed to peddling more than 800, as Zucchero told the New York Times last year.
“Now, I’m eating my words” to Storer, Zucchero said.
One notable contrast between fact and fiction highlighted in Sunday Morning’s interview was how Zucchero and The Bear’s protagonist, Carmy Berzatto, regard the men who got them involved in their respective sandwich shops.
Carmy at times is depicted as loathing being left in control of the shop – and as resentful of the way that the loved one who willed him the business died.
Zucchero, on the other hand, said he felt lucky over his relationship with his father, who died in March at age 69 while undergoing treatment for cancer.
After Joseph died, the younger Zucchero said to the Associated Press that his father “was a magnificent human being” who “was charismatic” and “loved his restaurant”.
“He loved his family,” Zucchero, 43, said of his father.
Zucchero also wrote in an Instagram post: “Most don’t even get to know their dads. I lived every waking moment of my life with him in some kind of capacity.”
On Sunday, Zucchero said to CBS, “I’m blessed – I was blessed to have that man in my life.
“And that’s all. Forget about all this. Forget about the restaurant – whatever it was. I was just happy that that was my father.”
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