The Model Restauranteur – Michigan Avenue Magazine 9/2014

Michigan AvenueFrom runways to reservations, Jennifer Wisniewski balances a fashion career with running her Michelin-Recommended Irving Park hot spot, Bread & Wine.

By Jacqueline Bender

Sitting in the rustic-chic dining room of Bread & Wine, Jennifer Wisniewski is recalling her early memories of food and fashion, two fields that have always been connected in her mind. “It’s all entertainment to me,” she says of her two great passions, modeling and running the Michelin-approved bistro and market she owns with business partner Lisa Fosler Kelly. In fact, some of the Sauganash native’s earliest memories of style and dining are one and the same: “I used to get so excited when my parents would say, ‘We’re going out to dinner—go get dressed up.’”

Wisniewski’s fashion career began at age 19, modeling for the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Vivienne Westwood, and Isaac Mizrahi, and the transformation that accompanied each job appealed to her. “I love the metamorphosis of it,” she says, “walking in and [being transformed] from head to toe.” Admittedly, Wisniewski jokes, the restaurant side of her career has had some perks over the modeling side. As a full-time model, “you ate a pear and then you took a walk,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a nice relief to eat a sandwich.”

Jennifer WisniewskiThese days she’s lucky if she has time to sit down for a meal at her own restaurant, whose focus on “good, approachable food with local ingredients, using modern interpretations”—think house-made charcuterie (one of Wisniewski’s favorites) and pheasant with English peas and woodland mushrooms—has struck a chord with guests since day one. “The Michelin recommendation is thrilling,” she says proudly.

Bread & Wine originated on a play date between Wisniewski’s and Kelly’s daughters when the two women realized how well Kelly’s wine industry background dove-tailed with Wisniewski’s experience hostessing at Café Absinthe, Green Dolphin Street, and Naha. “We were just moms talking about how this neighborhood is limited as far as thoughtful, elevated restaurants go,” Wisniewski says. “Normally, conversations like that, they end.” But theirs resulted in an award-winning restaurant—no small feat for two women in a male-dominated industry. “At first it was like, ‘What are these two doing?’” she recalls. Now they’ve got the hottest restaurant in the neighborhood. “I’m thankful, but we’re always striving to be better.”

Juggling her two passions remains tricky, and at times almost comical. Wisniewski had to cancel a recent modeling job at the last minute “because the walk-in cooler went on the fritz and I couldn’t make it!” She hopes the future will bring more time for modeling, but her plans as a business owner are equally ambitious, including the possibility of opening “a cool little bar” in Irving Park. “I like to entertain,” she says about the restaurant business, “and I love the energy.”

“I’m obsessed with the Lyric Opera. I’m listening to opera music 24/7 in my house and crying.”
“Old Irving Park is such a great mix of unpretentious, eclectic people, and I like how low-key it is.”
“I’ve been going to P.45 in Bucktown forever. The owner has a great eye, and it’s modern and relevant.”
“I love David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice. He is the wittiest man alive.”

Michigan Avenue