Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Jason Little]
While it's only been open a few weeks, Untitled has already proven itself to be one of the hottest places to open in Chicago this summer. And running a restaurant, lounge and live music venue is not an easy task, but for Felipe Ospina, a veteran in the River North scene, it seems to be second nature. Ospina worked with the Mercadito group in New York and came to Chicago to help open the location here, but ended up staying when Mercadito, and its subterranean bar Double A, took off. After two years running that place, Ospina left to work with Roka Akor for nine months and then had plans of opening his own spot with Art Mendoza before the pair met Untitled owner Marc Bushala. And after getting a glimpse of the still-raw 18,000 square-foot subgrade space, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.
Untitled has been hopping. Just how busy has it been?
We did 650 covers this past Saturday just for dinner. Things are going great.
It's 8pm Saturday. What's the wait for a table?
If you were just a walk in, you were waiting for about 30 to 40 minutes. The space is big so I can be flexible and offer people lounge tables if they just want a snack.
What's the vibe like during the week – busy?
For example for today, we only have open the library and the dining room, the lounge is closed. It makes it feel smaller and cozier. We have a piano player and have someone singing. It makes it more enjoyable and it's good for people who don't want something so loud. You're enjoying a good meal with live entertainment.
Is it easy to get a reservation or should people plan well ahead of time?
It's getting tighter and tighter. I do not open everything on Open Table at the beginnings. I want to make sure the kitchen and bar can execute and now I'm opening more slots on Open Table and we're already seeing like 400 for Friday, 450 for Saturday. The word is getting out and I'm excited for what is happening now.
If you make a reservation for dinner, is it then easy to get a table for a show?
We treat it separate. One of my things ... I never say no. We'll find a way to make sure the guest is happy, but sometimes you just can't because there may not be space. We'll invite them to get a drink at the bar. It's hard for people to understand it's a separate thing. The bottom line is making sure they're happy.
There are a number of spaces in Untitled. How do you manage it all?
[Laughs.] My staff. They're amazing. We went through a really long and intense training. If it weren't for them I wouldn't be able to run such a big space. The management team is there for me. Chef Joe [Heppe] is amazing and humble and so easy to work with. He can execute though; the food is great.
Can people just walk in and sit down somewhere to eat and drink or do they have to be seated in every room?
They have to come in and check in with the host. We reserve some space in the library and the parlor and we do have some tables in the lounge/supper club where you can sit down and order some of the food. The large plates aren't available for those smaller tables.
As a customer, is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter, like cash or gifts?
That's something that we do not accept. For me, the most important thing is to respect that person who made a reservation a month ago. But I do try to help everyone. I'm always honest with them that they can get a table in 30 to 40 minutes. I'll give them my card and ask them to call me ahead of time next time.
What about the VIP entrance around back, do people try to sneak in that way?
Not yet. We haven't launched our membership program yet. It's something ... no one knows about it yet, but we'll start the membership where we'll pick some people by invitation. After that there will be a set of rules, it may be invite only. But nothing is set yet.
Even though Untitled is new, do you have a favorite type of customer?
I love a person who you can have a conversation and friendship with that they'll enjoy all the things we can offer them, that they can have passion about this. Some people love to be seen, but I love the customer who can enjoy the wine or a great cocktail, someone who takes advantage of everything we offer in the restaurant.
Has Untitled been attracting any celebs yet?
Yes, we've seen some of the Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews was there. He had a blast, was there for like five hours with his friends. One of the beauties of this place is you have all these different rooms and the private cabanas and people can have privacy. It's really friendly for them. Toews was really, really nice. I think they spent like $1,200 just drinking. They left very happy.
What about any requests you couldn't accommodate?
No not really. I always try to go and find a solution for the guest. There was a guest who followed me from Mercadito and Roka. His birthday at Roka, he wanted churros. I ran to Xoco, got churros and put them on a platter. Now he always reminds me that his birthday is coming up.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
Make sure I have the support from my staff to respond to people. My phone goes off the hook Thursday, Friday and Saturday and to be able to get back to a regular guest, some don't plan ahead, they're busy, etc. They want to walk in. Chicago is all about taking care of people—it's a whole different level of hospitality. Just to have the support from my staff to focus on and execute on the guests and make sure people leave happy.
When you're not at Untitled, where are you eating and drinking?
I really enjoy the Boka restaurants like Balena, and GT [Fish & Oyster] is one of my regular places because I live in River North. I love Mercadito, it's always in my heart. I love to go to avec, Girl and The Goat. I like the tortas at Xoco.
· Untitled Now Officially Open, Look at the Space, Menu [~EChi~]
· All Untitled Coverage on Eater Chiacgo [~EChi~]