The Windy City has been bursting with new concepts since last year’s NRA Show, many of which play into today’s industry trends. Local heavy hitters Rick Bayless and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises have launched new concepts, a spy-themed eatertainment destination opened an outpost, and the area has its first all-organic fast-food drive-thru. And those are just a few of the spots operators on the hunt for smarts can stop at. In Restaurant Business’ fourth annual guide of concepts to explore during the show, we’ve compiled operations with one goal in mind: No matter where you stop in, you’ll find ideas to pilfer for your own business.
Wonfun + 2Fun
This two-in-one concept in the constantly evolving West Loop neighborhood offers a fun take on Sichuan food, with Chinese-American favorites like dan dan noodles and sweet and sour pork. Upstairs, the 2Fun bar slings Asian-inspired cocktails, beer, wine and ginger-turmeric kombucha on draft.
905 W. Randolph St. | funfunchinese.com
The third Publican spinoff (the outpost at O’Hare Airport, Publican Tavern, opened last July) is a more casual, bar-focused version of the original Publican, a farmhouse-inspired pork, oysters and beer destination that opened in 2009. While dinner is prime time, this offshoot features a limited late-afternoon menu until
5 p.m. and weekend brunch.
1576 N. Milwaukee Ave. | publicananker.com
The Polenta Bar
Single-focus fast casuals aren’t new, but can an all-polenta build-your-own fast casual survive? This operation features 15 tables, counter seating and a variety of customizable, seasonal vegetable and meat toppings for its bowls of cornmeal mush.
1002 W. Lake St. | thepolentabar.com
In Chicago’s former Meatpacking District, veggies take center stage at this concept the New York Times called “a shrine to vegetables.” The airy space on what’s been dubbed Restaurant Row also features a menu of low-alcohol cocktails.
802 W. Randolph St. | badhunter.com
Forget the big, honkin’ T-bones Chicago is known for. This Boka Restaurant Group operation shakes up the steakhouse menu with 4-ounce tasting portions of its steaks. Taking it a step further for those who can’t pick just one or those wanting to share, The Carnivore is a sampler of four 4-ounce cuts.
707 N. Wells St. | gtprimerestaurant.com
Revival Food Hall
The food hall has become a go-to for office workers looking for lunch at one of the 15 locally operated stalls. Popular vendors include Aloha Poke, Smoque BBQ and Furious Spoon ramen. James Beard Award winner Mindy Segal offers breakfast pastries and desserts at her namesake Mindy’s at Revival Cafe.
125 S. Clark St. | revivalfoodhall.com
Smyth + The Loyalist
This West Loop split concept maximizes its customer base by offering a multicourse fine-dining menu at Smyth and a casual, walk-in-friendly platform at The Loyalist. To avoid losing revenue to no-shows, Smyth uses a prepaid ticketing platform for reservations.
177 N. Ada St. | smythandtheloyalist.com
Latin-inspired seasonal cocktails are called out by spirit on a changing board at this bar from MCO Heisler Hospitality. But it’s not focused on the bar all day; to make the most of the dayparts, this concept serves coffee and housemade snacks as well.
2450 N. Milwaukee Ave. | estereochicago.com
Ema came to life after being incubated at Intro, the Lettuce Entertain You rotating-concept restaurant that switches out its guest chefs every few months. Among the features at this Mediterranean casual-dining spot are grab-and-go counter Rotisserie Ema.
74 W. Illinois St. | emachicago.com
Head to the Chicago suburb of Cicero to check out the first location of the new fast casual from Hooters. The small-footprint concept, which hires both women and men and ditches the skimpy uniforms, has a full-service bar as well as counter service for dine-in or takeout.
2201-D S. Cicero Ave. | eathoots.com
Seafood City Supermarket
Filipino food landed on just about every 2017 trend list. And it’s here in abundance at this massive grocery store-food court hybrid on the Northwest Side, also home to Filipino quick-serve giants Jollibee, Grill City, Crispy Town and Noodle Street.
5033 N. Elston Ave. | seafoodcity.com
Restaurateur Amy Morton—of Morton’s The Steakhouse legacy and creator of Found restaurant—has launched an 80-seat steakhouse, accessible only through an alley, in a circa-1800s brick structure that was once a horse barn.
Rear 1016, Church St., Evanston | thebarnevanston.com
This delivery- and carryout-only Lettuce Entertain You spinoff shares a kitchen with Oyster Bah, the MCO’s seafood spot that opened last year. LEYE maximizes its real estate with this behind-the-scenes quick-service concept that offers up fried chicken, ribs and grilled lobster, available via third-party delivery services.
1962 N. Halsted St. (delivery and takeout only) | seasideschicago.com
Lena Brava + Cruz Blanca Cerveceria
Rick Bayless expanded his Chicago empire with this West Loop duo that spotlights the food and drink of Baja. The centerpiece of Lena Brava is a live-fire hearth for preparing sustainable seafood and more. The restaurant also offers an extensive raw bar, well-suited to an operation that doesn’t have any gas or electrical cooking elements. For the more casual, drinks-focused vibe, Cruz Blanca features about a dozen house-brewed beers, as well as tacos and other quick bites.
900 and 904 W. Randolph St. | rickbayless.com
Nic’s Organic Fast Food
The suburb of Rolling Meadows is home to the Chicago area’s first certified-organic fast-food restaurant. The concept, which also features a drive-thru, offers standard fast-food fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All ingredients are certified organic by Quality Assurance International.
2101 Plum Grove Rd., Rolling Meadows | nicsorganicfastfood.com
If you haven’t gotten the chance to visit one on the East Coast, this fast-growing better-for-you salad chain (backed by Danny Meyer and David Chang, among others), is known for a commitment to local sourcing. The chain has leases signed on two other Chicago locations, saying it likes to grow quickly in each market it enters to build its supply chain.
623 N. State St. | sweetgreen.com
Self-serve beverages (beer, wine, cocktails, kombucha and coffee) are the hook of this tasting room, which also serves fondue and other snacks. The concept features traditional lounge-style seating, as well as a few ceiling-mounted swings.
2027 W. North Ave. | tapsterchicago.com