As was widely predicted after chef Kevin Hickey left at the end of September, Bottlefork will close on Sunday, October 29, ending a three-year run in River North. The restaurant, featuring small plates and quality beers, was a collaboration between Billy Dec’s Rockit Ranch Productions and Hickey; the spot opened in February 2014. With Hickey’s abrupt departure from Rockit and Dec’s insistence that his company needed to focus on bigger projects (including the opening of a restaurant in Nashville) many in the industry —including former employees — predicted Bottlefork’s days were numbered.
The restaurant space at 441 N. Clark Street will be immediately put up for sale. Dec said they’d also consider selling their Wrigleyville restaurant, Rockit Burger Bar, 3700 N. Clark Street. A rep stressed they wouldn’t close the restaurant unless they had a buyer lined up. A memo sent to Rockit employees read that they crave more of a national impact and the Nashville restaurant (it’s another Sunda, Rockit’s glitzy Hubbard Street Asian restaurant) will give the company that type of exposure.
Dec, a restaurateur and Chicago fixture, hasn’t said anything publicly since Hickey’s departure and the closing of Otto Mezzo, their River North late-night bar that lasted six months. He did answer a few questions via email, writing that they’ve been evaluating the company since earlier in the year, trying to explore the “growth potential of our brands.” Dec wouldn’t describe how the company was doing financially. He did write that they “are incredibly happy to be focusing on where we are most successful, pursuing our passion.” Though he’s excited to concentrate on the Nashville expansion, he said it was a tough decision to shift directions.
“Knowing we’d have to focus our time, attention and resources on a much higher level to reach our growth and expansion goals meant we’d have to separate from a smaller venues/brands like Bottlefork, which wasn’t producing much financially, no matter how much we and our guests loved it,” Dec wrote.
Overall, Dec wrote that the public’s response has been supportive and positive. Rockit’s been around for almost 20 years and Dec wants to continue to serve the city. He is aware of some criticism, with folks chiming in that Rockit is more concerned with quantity than quality.
“When was the last time they raised millions of dollars to build another home for one of their more successful brands in a booming city outside of their own?” Dec wrote.
It doesn’t sound like there will be a new Rockit venue in Chicago anytime soon. Dec only would write that a new restaurant or bar would need “the right business idea, climate, space, economics, opportunity.” He was sure to remind the public that the Otto Mezzo space, with its coveted 4 a.m. liquor license, is up for sale.
As for the immediate future, diners have five days before Bottlefork closes.