While Rockit Ranch Production’s Billy Dec still hasn’t commented publicly about the split between his company and chef Kevin Hickey, his reps did share an internal memo distributed to staff. Dec, the long-time nightclub owner and restaurateur, told Rockit staff that they’ve “made the decision to intensely focus on our bigger brands and venues with the most potential for growth right now.” That philosophy comes at the expense of smaller venues, and that’s the reason they’ve closed Otto Mezzo. The memo also stated that they’ve placed the River North space up for sale.
Rockit’s portfolio includes Sunda, Bottlefork, and Rockits in River North and Wrigleyville. Hickey announced his departure from Rockit last week, dissolving a partnership and taking his South Side restaurant, The Duck Inn, independent. In Rockit’s memo, credited to Dec and Rockit partner Brad Young, mentioned their plans to open a second Sunda in Nashville and the “tremendous amount of attention, to make the national impact we are aiming for.” Sunda is Rockit’s pan-Asian restaurant that opened in 2009 in River North on Hubbard Street.
The rationale behind the separation with Hickey, was that so the two parties could “each focus on what we each do best, and where we are most passionate.” The memo also stressed a mutual respect.
Brandon Phillips worked as Rockit’s beverage director and left the company last week to work with Hickey at The Duck Inn. Phillips said he was “bummed out” about Otto Mezzo’s closing as he and Hickey put a lot of their efforts into opening the bar. He agreed with Rockit’s assessment, and said there was “no big blow ups or hard feelings” over the departures.
“It wasn’t as if Kevin and I were plotting to leave as it was just kind of time to focus on Duck Inn,” Phillips said.
The Duck Inn is Hickey’s dream restaurant nearby where he grew up in Bridgeport. Phillips vowed to continue to serve “blue collar fine dining” fare. He also will be adding a few new cocktails to the drink list.
Hickey isn’t the only recent high-profile departure from Rockit. Earlier this year, Arturo Gomez, who was Rockit’s president and partner, left the company to start a new company. Rockit’s news goes with the narrative that Chicago’s neighborhood restaurants are struggling. Will other restaurant groups follow? Stay tuned.