Crain's Chicago Business

"I came to Chicago with a dream to design restaurants"

Mark Knauer, 40 Under 40 class of 1990
Founder, president, Knauer Inc.

Mark Knauer in 1990

Then: A 34-year-old restaurant designer putting his stylish stamp throughout Chicago with projects such as Harry Caray's, Trattoria No. 10 and Gibsons Steakhouse. Had a staff of eight, doing business mostly in the region and U.S with about $1.5 million in fees in 1989.

Now: At 57, Mr. Knauer presides over a firm that's designing restaurants worldwide and has added hotels and retail spaces to his list of projects. The company's volume of business and billings are up four to five times since 1989. Among his more recent local designs are Lux Bar, Hugo's Frog Bar, Lou Malnati's, Atwood Cafe, Henri, and The Gage.

What it meant to be a 40:
"It was a great honor. It gave a certain sense of credibility. When you start out and are fairly young, you are judged by your work."

Ups and downs
"When we started out we had two or three employees, and over the years we've gone up to about 40. The years from 2008 to 2009 put a huge dent in the business. There was no money to build and we went down to about six or eight employees, and now we're back up to 14. We've done about 2,500 to 2,800 restaurants since the beginning."

Going global
"We've done work in South America, in Russia and in the Pacific Rim. But we're focused on a great client base in the U.S. Today, we're considerably more selective."

A changing business
"The food industry has become more professional. It's big business today. When you look at television and print, food has become the national pastime."

Perks of designing some of the city's most popular restaurants
"I can get a reservation. Even if they're booked, I can usually call and get a reservation. It's very satisfying to go back and see the finished product. We're creating life here."

our DNA

All companies have DNA, whether they can define it or not. At Knauer Incorporated, we have defined our Brand DNA®, we have communicated it to our team, we reinforce it every day, we question how we can make it better, and we deliver it to our clients at every possible occasion and touch point.

  • dream concepts
  • big ideas
  • sensible solutions
  • affordable execution
  • technical savvy
  • integrated thoughts
  • market understanding
  • dynamic response
  • impeccable documentation
  • brand aware
  • ROI driven

Mark Knauer

Founder | Principal | Design

Mark Knauer has been a leading visionary in the hospitality design business for more than 30 years. In 1984 he founded Knauer Incorporated. Mark's success has led to countless industry awards including being recognized by Crain's Chicago Business to be a "Top 40 Executives Under 40" and two Nation's Restaurant News "Hot Concept Awards." Mark has designed a wide range of projects that encompasses the world's who's-who list of restaurants, hotels, resorts, retail stores, clubs and casinos.

In addition to Mark's skill in developing blockbuster concepts that work, his Knauer team has developed a branding process that they utilize with their design clients and have implemented with numerous corporations worldwide. His Brand DNA® process has been the core element in allowing these companies to become more successful.

Mark is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a BS in Hospitality Administration. He started his career as a dishwasher and busboy and has held or worked in every staffing position in a restaurant and hotel. Mark is a frequent speaker and judge at industry functions, conventions, and competitions.

Al Benda

Director | Engineering

Al Benda has 35+ years of experience in the design, layout, and the selection of equipment for foodservice facilities. His expertise in kitchen and facilities engineering has been invaluable to Knauer's clients over the past 15 years where he has designed literally thousands of kitchens. Al also coordinates the electrical, plumbing, and ventilation requirements for the equipment selected. He supports clients in the procurement of the foodservice equipment with specifications, bid analysis and vendor selection.

Having Al in the office with the ability to deliver and coordinate the kitchen engineering while the project is being designed has been an invaluable tool for Knauer clients. Al has worked extensively with a special emphasis on high-end hospitality projects, specializing in cost effective, labor efficient designs that are energy and environmentally considerate. He has been particularly successful not only working hand in hand with Knauer clients, but advising equipment manufacturers to better meet their market needs.

Al is more than an engineer. He is a true renaissance man with artistic abilities. His drawing hand is old school with the touch of a true artisan. While he down plays them because of modesty, his rendering and planning capabilities are exceptional.

Mayur Modi

Director | Projects

Mayur Modi has over 20 years of architectural, planning and management experience at Knauer Incorporated. His projects have included hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, luxury homes and lifestyle shopping centers throughout the United States. After completing a Bachelor's in Architecture from L.S. Raheja School of Architecture in Mumbai, India, Mayur moved to the United States to pursue his dream and passion for the profession.

Mayur completed his Masters in Urban Design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 1994, Mayur joined Knauer Incorporated. During his years at Knauer, Mayur has worked his way from architectural drafting to managing multi-million dollar projects. He is closely involved with most every Knauer project. All project information funnels through him.

Mayur is responsible for helping with the fee proposal, project scheduling, budgeting, design execution, setting milestones and all deliverables. Mayur Modi's journey at Knauer Incorporated has given him an opportunity to work with numerous clients ranging from single restaurant owners to national chains.

Stan Obuchowski

Director | Architecture | Code & Quality Standards

Stan Obuchowski has been a part of the Knauer team since 1989, returning in 2013 to the full time position as Director of Architecture, Code & Quality Standards. He has thirty plus years of experience in architecture, starting at age seventeen as a draftsman. By age twenty three, he was managing multi-million dollar projects for a full service architectural and engineering firm. Stan has managed varying project types including single family homes, industrial facilities, large scale data center facilities, warehouses, medical offices, retail spaces, mixed-use projects, and of course, restaurant and hospitality projects. This depth of knowledge enables him to bring a broad perspective to the Knauer team.

In addition to working with Knauer, he has been providing consulting services for many retail and office/industrial property owners and managers over the past twenty-plus years, producing cost effective solutions for tenant and capital improvement projects. Other services include facility documentation, feasibility studies, value engineering, lease plans, and lease outline drawings. He continues to maintain these professional relationships as part of Knauer today.

Stan achieved his initial architectural registration in 1991 and currently maintains registration in multiple states. He is a member of The American Institute of Architects.

When not working, Stan can be found on the golf course. He tends to carry a higher a higher handicap than a player with five holes-in-one should have.

Warren Stetson, AIA - NCARB

Director | Architecture

Warren Stetson has over 25 years of architecture and design experience in the hospitality industry. He has participated in, and led the planning, design and construction of numerous restaurant, hotel, and resort projects from New York City to Hawaii and California. Warren worked with the Knauer Team for 15 years and then took a short hiatus with Looney & Associates as a team leader responsible for the renovation of, and addition to, The Hyatt Regency New Orleans, and the ballroom renovation for the Grand Hyatt New York. Warren has again joined Knauer brining his unique and polished design esthetic as well as his depth of experience based on many years in the hospitality industry. This experience and his love of travel bring a global exposure and thoughtfulness to the projects on which he works.

Warren is a NCARB certified architect and is licensed in the states of Illinois, Florida and Colorado, and a member of the American Institute of Architects. He received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Design and Planning from the State University of New York at Buffalo and later received his Masters in Architecture from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.

As one of the directors of architecture at Knauer, Warren is responsible for ensuring that construction documents meet design intent, project schedule and budget, while satisfying building codes and accessibility requirements. Warren is committed to high quality design and personalized client service developing enduring relationships.

Ketan Chokshi

Studio Leader

Ketan Chokshi joined Knauer Incorporated in 1995. He has worked on an assortment of projects always bringing his exceptional talents and innovative thinking to each of them. Ketan is recognized by Knauer's clients for his creative architectural designs and his dedicated work ethics.

Ketan holds a Bachelor's of Architecture Degree from the School of Architecture in Ahmadabad, India. Bringing a global viewpoint to Knauer, Ketan has had the esteemed experience of working with full-service Architect & Design firms internationally. At Knauer, he specializes in creating sophisticated presentations in 3D views as well as crafting highly structured and sophisticated construction documents that utilize the latest technology and innovation.

Eileen Driscoll

Studio Leader | Administration | Procurement

Eileen Driscoll has always held a passion for the hospitality industry. Prior to entering the field of architecture and design she worked in the hospitality management industry for 15 years.

In 2006 she joined Knauer, Inc. as an executive assistant and office manager. She immediately connected with the team’s appetite for creating bold new designs that cohesively married a restaurateurs’ culinary concept with Knauer’s architectural innovation. During her tenure Eileen attended college ultimately gaining firsthand experience with project design, specification writing and procurement. Her daily engagement with colleagues, clients and vendors was instrumental in completing with honors, her Associates in Science in Interior Design from Triton College.

Eileen is an integral member of the design team and currently serves as a Designer and Studio Leader.

Adam Garrett

Studio Leader | Architecture

Adam Garrett became part of the Knauer team in 2016 after earning a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. His previous professional experience includes over a year of high end residential design development along with internships including fabrication and extensive 3d modeling. Prior to his architecture career, Adam dedicated 6 years of military service including several deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His recent experience at Knauer has been assisting various design teams as a Studio Leader in the development of numerous hospitality projects.

Alvin Hamilton

Studio Leader | Architecture

Alvin Hamilton is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois with a Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies. While studying at the University of Illinois Alvin participated in the university's Versailles Program where he studied architecture extensively throughout Europe. Prior to working at Knauer, Alvin worked in the construction industry, where he focused mainly on residential remolding, retail construction projects, and new construction. Since joining Knauer, Alvin has contributed to the design and documentation of many successful projects. His input has been invaluable.

Kevin Jele

Studio Leader | Architecture

Kevin Jele became part of the Knauer team in 2013 after studying at the University of Illinois and earning at Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies. While in school, Kevin was invited to The Rotch Traveling Studio to re-think the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan. Kevin's previous work experience, prior to joining Knauer, was designing and detailing custom stairs for residential and commercial projects. His recent experience at Knauer has been as an exceptional Studio Leader in the development of numerous hospitality projects.

Jason Kittridge

Studio Leader | IT Guru

Jason Kittridge has been with Knauer since 2005 after graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami and working for other firms. His attention to detail and ability to anticipate the clients' needs led him to begin experimenting with alternative technologies to keep Knauer at the forefront of design. For the past 6 years, Jason has worked as a Studio Leader at Knauer Incorporated. In this capacity, he is completing the necessary internship time and testing to become a licensed architect in the near future.

Jason has also taken on the responsibilities of information technology management at Knauer. This includes all management of computer systems and networks, as well as software implementation, training, CAD management, and customized programming to increase efficiency and create a higher standard of product for our clients. Jason is the creator of SpecPLUS, a proprietary software system for the hospitality industry.

Tami Krukowski


Tami Krukowski joined the Knauer Team in 2016. She is responsible for the administrative duties, bookkeeping and managing the resource library. Previously Tami worked as an administrative assistant for a doctor before joining the team and has 20+ years of experience in the administrative field and hospitality industry.

Christian Schaller

Director | Design

Christian Schaller has 20 years of experiences in architecture, design, and planning, working on projects in across the private and public sectors. Christian has been active in the design, planning, and construction of numerous causal and upscale restaurants, hotels and resorts, luxury housing, private schools, universities, and over 30 libraries in the Midwest, New England, and California.

Christian completed the award-winning design and transformation of the former Chicago headquarters and warehouses for the Sears and Roebucks, including converting the historic Sears Power House into the Shaw Technology and Learning Center, a charter school for the Henry Ford Learning Academy. The building achieved LEED Platinum status, the highest rating available for environmental conscious and sustainable buildings. The project also received the Richard H. Dreihaus Foundation Preservation Award, Timmy Awards for Best Adaptive Reuse Project in 2010, and was named project of the year by Landmarks Illinois.

Christian joined Knauer, Inc. in 2011 as the Director of Design. Christian is committed to high-quality design and personalized client service. He works with his clients to design and plan spaces that incorporate their DNA. He is responsible for translating the clients' ideas into design by creating drawings, schematics, and 3-D illustrations. He works with his clients throughout the process, from design to material and furnishing selections to build out, while keeping his clients' needs and budgets in mind.

Christian holds a Bachelors of Architecture from The University of Kentucky, College of Architecture. Outside of work, Christian enjoys renovating historic homes, gardening, and traveling domestically and internationally. He especially excited to discover new and old-time restaurants and bars to inspire his next project.

Jake Stawicki

Studio Leader

Jake Stawicki has over 10 years of experience in the field of architecture and design and has been an integral part of the Knauer Team since 2006. He has participated in the development of a diversified set of projects, spanning from hospitality to large scale public works and redevelopment.

In collaboration with the professional staff at Knauer, Jake has contributed to the development of over 50 successful restaurant and hotel projects that are geographically distributed throughout the country. His broad range of experience and education make him a valuable asset to all levels of the architectural process. Jake has his BFA from Northern Illinois University and Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jacob Trompler

Studio Leader

Jacob Trompler is one of the newer faces at Knauer. He started with the team in 2015, and since, has been a part of numerous restaurant jobs. Jacob received his Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

Before starting with Knauer, Jacob worked in many fields: grounds keeping, landscaping, food processing, carpentry, and warehouse managing. Working at Knauer Inc. became the start of Jacob’s professional career in architecture.

Jacob attributes his accomplishments to his life-long endeavors in competitive sports. Diligence, Dedication, and Teamwork are a few lessons, learned through competition that translate well into the workforce. These lessons are sure to help Jacob and the Knauer Team continue to excel.

corporate profile

Knauer Incorporated, founded in 1984, is an exceptional Architecture, Interior Design, and Engineering firm providing their clients with added value consulting and direction services.

We are exceptional because of our many successful projects in the hospitality industry. We are exceptional because of our reputation as creative designers and qualified architects. We are exceptional because we understand our client's business and the design business.

We have distinguished ourselves by our experience and resourcefulness. In the past 27 years since Knauer Incorporated was founded, we have completed thousands of projects including hotels, restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, resorts, and specialty retail stores, all successful designs for places where people want to be and buy.

Our approach to a project, which we call concept development, is a unified package of Architecture, Interior Design, Planning, Engineering, and Graphic Design. Our unified package is a holistic approach to design where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This approach is market driven, meeting the needs of our clients and their guests, while helping our clients maximize the project potential as realized through their return on investment (ROI).

Our goal is for a customer to walk in and not only say "Wow," but for that customer to remember the whole experience, remember how comfortable they felt in the space, and come away with a memorable experience and the desire to return.

Design has the potential to influence our world. We take that philosophy seriously and are respectful of the responsibility we have in shaping our client's world. We endeavor to create intelligent designs that exhibit timeless and enduring qualities while performing to the fullest and respecting our environment. We are never limited to known or redundant solutions. We use our many years of experience to develop new and better ones.

Experience + Creativity + Execution = Excellence