Chicago Diner in Boystown [Photo: The Urchin Movement]
The Chicago Diner, owned by chef Jo A. Kaucher and husband/business partner Mickey Hornick, has withstood stiff competition in Chicago's eclectic restaurant scene for the past thirty years by doing something unheard of back in April of 1983—serve a completely vegan menu with an American comfort twist. Although focusing on core diner items such as burgers, a Reuben sandwich, milkshakes, biscuits and gravy and offering breakfast til' 3 p.m., it's not your typical greasy spoon.
While the menu has no meat and a limited amount of dairy, the flavor and creativity that goes into each dish does not go unnoticed. Today the restaurant has two locations and as the demand for cruelty free, consciously sourced cuisine increases, the Chicago Diner continues to evolve, even releasing a book.
When asked how the menu has changed over the past thirty years when items such as quinoa and seitan were not as mainstream, Kat Barry, the restaurant's Business Development Specialist, responded that "the Chicago Diner menu is inspired by American comfort food classics and shaped by dining trends, as well as customer preferences. The Radical Reuben is a good example. It debuted in the early 90's as an open-faced tempeh (soy) Reuben. Through experimentation and feedback it developed into the seitan version on marbled rye that we serve today."
A growing number of Americans are subbing out their 6 oz. portion of steak or chicken for more vegetables and whole grains. Though this lifestyle and diet choice is gaining increased awareness and support, Chicago Diner serves guests of all diet preferences.
"You don't have to be vegetarian or vegan to enjoy Chicago Diner. We don't clobber you over the head with veg propaganda; well, perhaps a little bit, but it's a soft club. We make good food period and you don't miss the meat. Many of our guests do not consider themselves vegetarians. They just want a great meal that happens to be meat-free," says Barry.
When asked what the inspiration was for opening The Chicago Diner, Barry answered, "Co-founder and chef Jo A. Kaucher went vegetarian on a dare at the age of 19 and hasn't gone back. Husband and business partner Mickey Hornick went vegetarian on the day Chicago Diner opened, April 2, 1983. Sometimes you only have to open your eyes to see what's there."
Through thirty years of service there are going to be a few bumps in the road. Barry stated that "the old axiom still applies (to The Chicago Diner): the restaurant business is tough. Thirty years of ups and downs makes for a roller coaster of joy and loss. Everyday is a challenge. But that's not unique to the Chicago Diner, that's life."
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· Chicago Diner [Official Site]
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