You’re a true Chicagoan. Have you ever wanted to see where your career in public relations could go in New York or L.A.?

I think for me it goes back to Midwestern values. It’s just what I know. I was born and raised in an Italian household here, no one ever went hungry in my home. My mother had $30 a week for groceries and there were five kids but we always had food for 20. I did work in New York and I lived in L.A. and it just wasn’t my thing. New York was way too crazy busy and no one was nice. L.A. was too laid back and impossible to get across town in traffic. I just couldn’t deal with it. I think the most important part is that Chicago is my roots. As Chicagoans we have our own style, our own philosophies, we’re incredibly detailed oriented, we’re finicky and we know value. There are so many attributes that resonate with me personally. And you know what? I’m in love with the city.

Are there any parts of your career you are most proud of?

Gen Art was a big deal for me. It was such a big deal for Chicago at the time. I can’t even believe that was 10 years ago. The city was so excited when Gen Art came. It was a proud accomplishment to have launched that. I used to work 11, 12, 13 hours a day. I would go in at seven in the morning and literally leave at 9 o’clock at night.

What are the keys to success in such a competitive industry?

The most important thing is that you need to be happy with what you are doing. I’m very blessed. I’ve always been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and to have built the right relationships. I’ve been able to weed the good from the bad and be able to catapult myself consistently. The show on the Style Network has really opened doors that I could never have imagined and it was really due to a relationship I had. The most important thing is to always manage and maintain relationships and continually make smart decisions so you can move forward. When you get bored and you’re stagnate you need to take on the next biggest thing even if it’s scary or terrifying. We only have one life and one chance at it.

Is that why you were compelled to open your new restaurant, Argent?

I’m a big believer in taking chances and taking risks and the restaurant is one of them. I mean, I don’t know what am I doing! It’s awesome, but at the same time [my managing partner] Sean and I ask each other, “Can we do this?” and I’m like, “Yeah, we can!” We have a great chef and great team behind us.

What do you hope Argent will be known for?

It’s just really a place to be comfortable, fashionable and eat great food with no pretension. We came up with the concept with our chef Rodelio [Aglibot]. He loved the terms comfort, chic and modern American.

Looking back and knowing what you know today, what would you tell 25-year-old Julie?

I think in my 20s I was somewhat obsessed with finding the right relationship. I was absolutely obsessed. I thought that I needed to be married. I was completely beside myself because all of my friends were getting married. To this day I’ve had some amazing relationships but I’ve never been married. I’ve come close twice and neither one of them were the right situation and I finally feel like right now at 42 that I’ve found the right person. So I think that it’s holding out for exactly the right situation and the right relationship but you have to know what you want first and you have to know who you are first as a person, as a human, as a woman and as a female. You absolutely have to know yourself. If you don’t you have no business looking for a boyfriend, husband or relationship.

Secret to your flawless skin?

I truly believe you have to eat meat to keep your skin supple. Being vegetarian is great but your skin doesn’t get the same kind of protein. Also, sun damage is the biggest thing. I keep my face out of the sun. I love the sun but use SPF 30 on my face and my lips.

Favorite restaurants besides your own?

Avec is by far my number one. I’m addicted to the dates. My second would be Au Cheval. I think between our burger and their burger we’re competing. They have a sick burger, it’s so good!

Who do you look to for advice?

I’ve relied on myself my entire life so I’ve always been very good at searching out the answer and finding the right person for the situation. So it wasn’t like there was any one person as much as I was very good at connecting people and solving problems.

How do you think the real you compares with the perception people have of you?

I know I can be hard. I have the patience of a saint but I also know that I can be hard and intense but I’ll give you the shirt off my back. Even my two current interns — they are so damn cute and such good workers — said, “We have to admit we were intimidated at first,” and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I’m the easiest person in the world!” It just takes a minute because I want everybody to be the best they can be. So for me, I’m one step ahead. It comes from when I was very young and how my mother passed away from a tragic incident. I have a certain way of living with intensity and going with my intuition. I really tune into people. I don’t have a ton of friends. I don’t feel like I need a ton of friends. I have 10 very important people in my life but outside of that I just connect with people. A couple of my girlfriends have told me I’m so much nicer now and I’m like, “I was never not nice!” I just had tunnel vision.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

The Dalai Lama. I don’t know if he drinks! I don’t think he does.

Photography by Neal Agustin

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