CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon's fate as the team's skipper will be decided six or seven floors above where his new business venture is about to open its doors.
Located adjacent to Wrigley Field -- and in the same building that houses the Cubs' front office -- the new restaurant, Maddon's Post, will welcome customers beginning next week, but it's what could happen months down the road that stands out. The 65-year-old is in the final year of a five-year deal, and the Cubs say they won't discuss his future until the end of the season.
"I don't believe the success of that place is dependent on me having to work for the Cubs," Maddon said recently. "I don't think that highly of myself."
Perhaps that's why Maddon teamed up with local, veteran restaurateurs including executive chef Tony Mantuano from Spiaggia, a Chicago hot spot. Maddon and his business partner, Michael Stewart, expect the restaurant to be a hit with Cubs fans whether Maddon is employed by the team or not.
"Of course, having Joe around is better, that is a given," Stewart said. "Joe is extremely smart, has great intuition, he thinks outside the box -- even with some of our entrees that he creates. Of course, having him here is a bonus.
"Having said that, I firmly believe Joe will be back. But, at some point, he will not. Whether it's next year or five years, or whenever. We knew that going into this project."
Stewart and Maddon say they conceived of the eatery at Wrigley Field even before he won the World Series with the Cubs in 2016. It has taken several years to come to fruition, as they've made sure it doesn't require Maddon's presence to be successful. It's the same attitude they had with Maddon's other restaurant, in Tampa, Florida. Ava opened in November 2014, just weeks after Maddon left the Rays for the Cubs.
"We always intended this to be about the food and experience," Stewart said. "This is not a sports bar. ... Right before we opened Ava, Joe took the Chicago job. Back then, people were asking the [same] question, 'What will we do?' What we did was built a restaurant around the food, the service, our staff, the location -- not around baseball and its ownership."
Ava has received favorable reviews, and Maddon's team is hopeful it'll be the same with his new place. As for the manager's other team, the Cubs played their way to the top of the National League Central standings after a 2-7 start. But that hasn't changed anything within the front office. Cubs officials say they're focused on the field, not what goes on behind kitchen doors. When asked just about the restaurant, general manager Jed Hoyer quipped, "I'm looking forward to the friends/family discount."
Maddon remains optimistic he'll be back, especially after taking the team to the playoffs four consecutive seasons. He could be 5-for-5 come October.
"I do anticipate managing the Cubs," Maddon said.
As much as the front office has a say in Maddon's future, so does he. He often has said that 2019 is his free-agent year. Asked if he has thought about the prospect of opening Maddon's Post and then leaving town to work elsewhere in baseball, Maddon responded: "Of course you do. You have to consider that could happen."
Like his managerial style this year, Maddon has had a hands-on approach with the menu and decor. It has been described as full of Maddon's childhood "likes and recipes," with a heavy accent on his Italian and Polish heritage. (If you want to order his favorite dish, try Mama K's Pappardelle.)
"It's not about me," Maddon said. "If we have a good product -- as we're going to -- plus Wrigley Field, we think people will come no matter what."
There is precedent in Chicago for a championship-winning coach to open a restaurant and then abruptly leave town. Mike Ditka won the Super Bowl in 1986, was fired by the Bears in 1993 and opened a restaurant in 1997 -- the same year he was hired to coach the New Orleans Saints.
"Nobody was really happy about it, on the business side," an employee of Ditka's back then said. "They just started looking for space in New Orleans."
Ditka's remains a popular Chicago steakhouse to this day. Maddon's Post is hopeful for a similar run, knowing the popular personality might not be around to eat there for more than a few more months.
"Ava was thriving after I left there," Maddon said. "I don't think that's the connection. The ballpark, the Cubs, the iconic nature of who we are, sells anywhere. ... We have sharp, wonderful people running it. Wherever I am -- hopefully it's here -- it will be a great place."