The owners of Snaggletooth, the acclaimed and charming cured fish deli in Lakeview, insist that the restaurant isn’t going out of business. But the bottom line is that Bill Montagne and Jennifer Kim have announced that they’re closing the restaurant. The two are hesitant to provide a closing date, only saying it will happen sometime this summer.
Snaggletooth offers outstanding cured fish and a variety of unique seafood combined with a beverage program with Sparrow Coffee and Rare Tea Cellars that is the envy of many full-service restaurants. The restaurant has garnered its share of attention, as one of Eater Chicago’s Biggest Openings of 2016. Kim and Montagne even earned the 2017 Jean Banchet Award for rising chef of the year. The decision to close happened fast with a combination of reasons leading to the announcement.
“From a financial perspective, neither one of us had any grand illusions that we were getting a new Mercedes from this place,” Montagne said.
The price point was higher compared to other restaurants in the neighborhood. Good fish isn’t cheap. The restaurant, with only 17 seats, needed a large space to sustain itself. Moving to a neighborhood like the West Loop that’s more of a destination for restaurants may have helped. but that’s not what ownership wanted. Many cooks dream of opening their own restaurant, and Kim and Montagne took a risk by leaving the world of corporate restaurants and spending their own money to open Snaggletooth. That DIY-spirit was kind of a cleanse. Kim and Montagne met while working at the restaurant currently known as Ocean Cut Chicago. That restaurant has gone through four new chefs since Montagne left as their opening chef in November 2015.
Big restaurant groups continue to dominate the city. Snaggletooth—to take Silicon Valley vernacular—wanted to disrupt that. The restaurant is a laboratory to experiment and learn, Kim explained. They never intended to be open for a long time.
“This is something completely unique and different, this is something we were passionate about,” she said. “[But] it’s short lived. It’s sort of like when a theater production comes through; it’s not going to stay here forever.”
Both Kim and Montagne won’t say what they have planned for the future, but they want to stay in Chicago. They agree that they’ve learned much since Snaggletooth opened in February 2016. The staff expanded from the two of them to six employees.
Workers from other restaurants made frequent visits to Snaggletooth, and that was a sense of pride of Montagne. Locals, which include the stroller set that typically strays from trying anything new, also pushed their boundaries. Montagne explained their decision to offer an octopus dish. They worried that people would thing it “might be too weird.” But diners embraced the creativity, and that was the moment they knew they had something successful: “It was like opening a gateway,” Kim said.
“It allowed us to do more funky stuff,” Montagne added.
Snaggletooth represents a success story, even if it’s a short one. There was a learning curve explaining the concept, as some still haven’t gotten over it’s not a dedicated bagel shop. The vindicated owners hope other chefs and cooks see their efforts and use it as motivation to take their own risks. A big aspect of the restaurant was day-to-day connects with customers, something that’s hard to develop will trapped inside a kitchen inside a downtown restaurant. Those relationships are worth it, and that’s why Montagne made the announcement this way.
“This may sound kind of silly, but there’s a lot of people who are big fans of this restaurant and I want them to have time to come back to get their final taste,” he said.