If all goes well after today's opening in Bucktown, Food Network star Jeff Mauro will take his new fast-casual spot, Pork & Mindy's, not just across the country, but international. Mauro—the "Sandwich King"—and CEO Kevin Corsello created the concept with expansion in mind. They already have an Irving Park spot in the works, but before they scale, Elmwood Park-native Mauro wants to take some time to stop and smell the smoked meats.
"I love getting in my car and coming to work, not having to get on a plane to go spend my time in New York or L.A.—this is my home," Mauro said. "My goal is to have this restaurant, and have many more restaurants, but this is my flagship, this is my home."
How many more? Well, that depends. Mauro's TV work will continue, but that won't interfere with the plan for global domination. He recalled when executives launched Food Network Asia sending he and his wife to Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore), where he saw a void for sandwiches, one that Pork & Mindy's could resolve. "Those cultures really don't have sandwiches, they have maybe one of the big chains or something, but it was like I was trying to convert people to two pieces of bun," Mauro said. "But people went bananas."
The seven sandwiches (nothing has more than three ingredients) on the menu"completely stand on their own," Mauro said, and that's what makes his spot unique. The focus isn't solely on barbecue, so forget pork served on a bed of creamy slaw with a pickle. Mauro's fingerprints are on the entire operations, literally —they shred the pork by hand—but there's vegetarian options too. They've also built relationships with farms across the Midwest, and use meats with no hormones and no antibiotics. They don't know the names of the animals, like "Portlandia," but Mauro and Corsello said they've taken note from Chipotle's recent problems and vow to pay closer attention to their supply chain.
It's also been a trip for Mauro to teach younger workers about food prep and music. The restaurant is decorated with pieces from local artists, and Mauro envisions a place for local bands to share their music. He recalled spending some of his younger years near the restaurant by the Milwaukee/Damen/North intersection and playing guitar in his own band. They played at the Big Horse, a shuttered taqueria/bar where Taxim now stands. Mauro spent time performing as Tony in the Piper's Alley production of "Tony's and Tina's Wedding," and he lamented to lack of funding for arts programs at schools.
So they're leaning on what they called the three pillars—music, food and art—for a sandwich chain that just might be on a global path. Take a peek at the photos above.
Pork & Mindy's, 1623 N. Milwaukee Ave, (773) 799-8759, Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday to Saturday.