Carson’s, The Place For Ribs, the family-owned restaurant chain founded 40 years ago in suburban Skokie, is looking to make a big splash in Streeterville. Owner Dean Carson, whose father founded Carson’s in 1977, confirmed that for they’ve taken over the Quay space at the River East Arts Center, 465 E. Illinois St.
Carson said he hopes to open by Oct. 1. It’s the first new Carson’s location in Chicago in at least 30 years. The chain, which still operates a River North location, once had restaurants scattered across Chicago and suburbs, as well as in Florida and Arizona. There’s still a Deerfield location, and Carson’s opened in Milwaukee in 2013.
“This one here is going to be quite good,” Carson said on Monday morning. “We’re going to shock some people, but not with the food—we don’t want to change much with the food.”
The restaurant followed a simple formula of hickory-smoked baby back ribs that had bite—they didn’t fall off the bone. When Carson’s grew in popularity, ribs—for the most part—were a novelty in many places in Chicago. But the market is much different now with barbecue joints all across the city. Carson thinks the new Streeterville location will help breathe life into the brand. It’s a comeback, as the brand took a hit after the Boston Blackie’s chain of burger restaurants went through a cash-checking scheme. Some Blackie’s served Carson’s ribs and other items as the ownerships shared a family connection.
Carson, 60, is excited about the new restaurant and having the chance to show that Carson’s can adjust to competition and modernize. Customers know what to expect at Carson’s, which featured a supper club atmosphere. For years carry-out customers had to heat up au gratin potatoes in an oven, as the restaurant felt that was the best and freshest way to experience the item at home. However, not all customers wanted to heat up their food. After years, they remodeled the River North dining room and ended the au gratin practice: “We can change,” Carson said.
There’s a few real estate details that need to be finalized, but Carson said he’ll share more in the coming weeks.