The Iconic Restaurant That The Bear Is Originally Based On

The runaway success of FX's "The Bear" just keeps on going, with the world currently glued to their screens watching the show's third season, which dropped on June 27. The scripted series, offering a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the restaurant industry, has followed the storyline of two up-and-coming chefs, Carmy and Sydney, as they try to turn an old family sandwich shop into an upscale dining experience (with the promise and panic of a potential Michelin star hanging ominously overhead).

The fictional restaurant, originally dubbed The Beef (which later becomes The Bear), is as much of a character on the show as Carmy, Sydney, or any of their kitchen associates. But part of the reason it feels like such a real, flesh and bone place is because, well, it is. 

The show was inspired by the real Chicago staple Mr. Beef, known for its Italian beef sandwich and other classics like hot dogs and cannolis. In fact, it might look a little familiar to fans of the series, since the dining room scenes in "The Bear's" pilot were shot entirely on premises, and several external scenes in the second season were filmed outside the restaurant.

The origins of Mr. Beef

Mr. Beef has been a part of the Chicago culinary landscape since 1963, when it was opened by locals Carl Bonovolanto and Tony Ozzauto. In 1979, the two sold the shop to Joe Zucchero, who turned it into a low-key legend. Currently, it's Zucchero's son, Chris, who runs Mr. Beef, though not much has changed since the late '70s. It was this stalwart ode to tradition that inspired the creator of "The Bear," Christopher Storer, to set the show in motion.

Storer and the younger Zucchero grew up together in Chicago, and their families were close. But the Zuccheros never imagined that their L.A.-bound friend would write about their family business, until he showed up at the restaurant one day with an entire TV crew. In addition to filming scenes at the spot, and copying it exactly as it appears in real life on a soundstage, Storer also asked Chris Zucchero to play a small role in the pilot of "The Bear," as Carmy's meat vendor.

Mr. Beef won't turn into The Bear

While Mr. Beef has always been well-known in Chicago's River North neighborhood and beyond (Jay Leno was one famous regular), the spike in popularity Mr. Beef has received after "The Bear" launched is something the Zuccheros are still grappling with. Joe Zucchero, who passed away in 2023, expressed pride in Chris Storer and the creative team of "The Bear" before his death. But his family, including Chris Zucchero and his sister, have vowed to keep the small business going.

Now, while The Beef is fully transformed into a Michelin-bait restaurant in "The Bear's" third season, with a menu celebrating the casual chaos of fine dining, Mr. Beef — which is still open for business as usual — has no plans of following suit. In fact, Zucchero has turned down the many publicity opportunities the show has presented, and allegedly hasn't even watched it himself. He's keeping it old school — and that's just the kind of attitude that makes Mr. Beef the iconic eatery it remains to this day.