Chicago’s restaurant scene will lose a vegetarian pioneer in less than two weeks. Green Zebra, which has served acclaimed, seasonal vegetarian, and vegan small plates for more than 13 years since it opened in 2004 at 1460 W. Chicago Avenue in West Town, will shutter after service on New Year’s Eve, chef-owner Shawn McClain writes in an email. Here’s McClain’s statement:
It is with a heavy heart that we are announcing that Green Zebra will be closing its doors on December 31st and the restaurant will be put up for sale. It has been an incredible ride and I want to personally thank all of those who have supported us for the past 13 1/2 years. I am so proud of what we have done over the those years and it’s success can be directly attributed to the wonderful staffs that have put their heart and soul into making Green Zebra such a unique and wonderful place. Special thanks to Holly, Elizabeth, Dean, Richard, Guicho, Elvis, Bull, Josh, John, Lis, Howard, Christine, Molly, Mary, Andrea, Grande, Sarah, Dan, Greg, Kristin, Bill A., Sam, Cynthia, Loden, Jeremy, Jose, Noah, John G, Laura & Christy.
The restaurant has given Chicagoans award-winning, vegetable-focused food since long before the term “vegetable-focused” became en vogue in the restaurant world. McClain made his name at Trio in Evanston before opening his first restaurant Spring in Wicker Park (in the space which became Trenchermen). He’s won a host of accolades, most notably a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest in 2006 — largely because of his work at Green Zebra. Although he has gone on to open multiple restaurants in Las Vegas, Green Zebra’s execution didn’t skip a beat — the Michelin inspectors continually placed it on its Bib Gourmand list, including for 2018.
But McClain also said that despite the increasing popularity of vegetable-focused cuisine in Chicago — Bad Hunter and Clever Rabbit are two noteworthy recent openings — that Green Zebra’s fiscal sustainability became difficult. “I’d be lying if I said (the reason for closing) was anything other than economics,” he writes. “I think Green Zebra’s concept and ideas are even more relevant today than they were in 2004. But the sheer number of restaurants in Chicago has an impact on all of (Chicago restaurant owners), and thus makes it unsustainable for some of us. It was a great run.”
As he prepares to close his last remaining Windy City restaurant, McClain expressed his gratitude to Chicago’s restaurant community and diners. “There is no doubt that Chicago has been the single biggest influence of my career and I will surely miss it,” he writes. Chicagoans have less than two weeks to try McClain’s groundbreaking globally-influenced vegetarian dishes in the Windy City, after which they’ll have to head to Vegas to taste his food again.