Two years ago, Kitchen 17 owner Don Clements started serving his vegan Chicago deep-dish pizza without the mountains of dairy used in the traditional version. Business was slow and Clements’ vegan version of the Chicago classic provided salvation for the tiny Lakeview restaurant. The item quickly became popular putting those tough times in the rearview mirror. Now Clements and Kitchen 17 are ready to expand.
If all goes well, Clements and business partner Jennie Plasterer plan on moving to a 2,200-square-foot space around the corner in April at 3132 N. Broadway St. They’ve needed the space for years, Clements said. Right now, they can only bake four pizzas per hour, using small electric ovens. That’s why the pizza is available as Wednesday special.
The creativity of Clements’ menu is quite a feat, as how he spices seitan and other meat substitutes is magical to vegans. It’s especially noteworthy when considering the space’s limitations. Kitchen 17 opened in 2013 and their menu is 100-percent vegan. Clements is proud, but doesn’t want to dwell on the word “vegan.” He prefers to see his menu as great food that happens to be made without meat and cheese: “I’m not going to spell ‘cheese’ with a ‘z’ or the kind of things that people do,” he said.
Plasterer’s role has grown as she’s a Kitchen 17 customer and called Clements a “visionary.” She and her friends used to hang out and chat with Clements while he prepped daily before the restaurant opened: “He really understands the science of making delicious vegan food that doesn’t tastes...healthy...it just tastes delicious,” she said.
While Clements will focus on those recipes, with sandwiches, burgers and other fare—he’ll have a chance to expand the menu given his larger kitchen. Plasterer is more concerned with the business and design end. They’ll have a full bar and will even brew one or two beers. Clements has experience home brewing and Plasterer has friends in the industry. The current Kitchen 17 does not serve beer.
The nanobrewery and location off the more-trafficked Broadway could attract a variety of customers, no matter their diets. Clements is excited about those prospects: “I would love to be more of a neighborhood spot,” he said. “We’re going to be as welcoming as possible.”
They’re still trying to determine the service model. The current Kitchen 17 offers their version of table service. Clements, a deeply-thoughtful man who was a political science major, isn’t comfortable with the traditional wait staff model and customers’ dependencies on waiters. He doesn’t believe in the customer/tipping system as he’s more concerned with paying his employees a living wage.
Clements and Plasterer will have more to share on the new Kitchen 17 in the coming weeks.