When he opened Lillie’s Q in 2010, Chef Charlie McKenna brought award-winning competition BBQ and timeless Southern cooking to the city of big shoulders. McKenna and Lillie’s Q have garnered critical praise and awards from both local Chicago and national media – including being named “Best New BBQ Restaurant in the Country” by Food & Wine magazine.
Florida State University alum, McKenna graduated from New York’s Culinary Institute of America in 2000, and cooked under legendary chef Norman Van Aken in Florida, before becoming a sous chef at two of Chicago’s four-star fine-dining landmarks: Tru and Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel. During that time, McKenna also won numerous awards on the competition BBQ circuit including a first place wins at Memphis In May in 2007 and 2016 – which is widely regarded as the world championship of BBQ.
Opening Lillie’s Q (named for his South Carolinian grandmother, Lillie, and his father, Quito) allowed McKenna to return to his BBQ roots – slow smoking pork shoulder, tri tip, baby back ribs, hot links, and chicken in custom-built smokers over peach wood. McKenna later opened a Lillie’s Q outpost in the Chicago French Market in the West Loop neighborhood in February 2013. McKenna also co-owns a Lillie’s Q in Destin, Florida with his parents, who operate the location. In September 2014, McKenna opened an extension to Lillie’s Q in Bucktown – LQ Chicken Shack, a fried chicken walk-up, to go window.
In August 2015, McKenna expanded the Lillie’s Q brand in a new space by offering Lillie’s Q and LQ Chicken Shack in the United Center with the launch of Chicago’s Plate, an innovative dining program curated by the arena, Levy Restaurant Group, the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks. Lillie’s Q and LQ Chicken Shack are available in the concourse and club level of the United Center alongside some of Chicago’s favorite producers and culinary hot spots.
McKenna has traveled across the U.S. and Australia for food, wine, and entertainment events including SXSW in Austin, South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami, and cooking at the James Beard House in New York. He has been a guest on countless national media outlets such as The Rachael Ray Show, Windy City Live, and Rick Bayless’ Feed Podcast. McKenna’s expertise spans beyond the kitchen, partnering with brands that share a similar ethos like YETI and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet on cooking classes and lifestyle shoots.
Additionally, after gaining recognition for the award-winning sauces he was serving in the restaurant, McKenna began bottling them and now Lillie’s Q Sauces & Rubs is a nationally and internationally recognized brand with distribution in over 4,000 stores across the country and in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In addition to the classics (Smoky, Hot Smoky, Carolina, E.N.C., Ivory, Carolina Gold, Hot Mess and Hot Pepper Vinegar), every few months McKenna creates a limited edition bourbon- barrel aged sauce that takes BBQ to a whole new level.
McKenna’s restaurant group, Southern Revival Hospitality, aims to bring the evolution of Southern cuisine and culture to the masses. With multiple restaurant concepts, authentic products and exceptional hospitality, McKenna continues to expand his pioneering brand rooted in Southern tradition.