After extensive renovations to the former Red Door space, Royal Grocer & Co. is close to opening in Bucktown at 2118 N. Damen Ave. It’s an ambitious project from chef Rob Shaner. He’s worked with Ryan Poli at Little Market Brasserie and Fifty/50 Group’s Homestead on the Roof where he was executive chef in West Town.
They’re gunning for a polished, yet comfortable vibe to draw locals, and Shaner wants to tap into nostalgia. He’s reluctant to group his restaurant with the likes of Bad Hunter in West Loop, Clever Rabbit in Wicker Park, and Daisies in Logan Square, but the menu will be veggie focused. That doesn’t mean vegetarian, but it does mean they’ll have a radish noodle dish. Shaner will finish the pasta with dashi, uni butter, and smoked roe.
Proteins include a salt marsh lamb (the preparation will change seasonally). There’s also a buttermilk fried chicken that’s citrus brined, with a batter including pickled chilis, shaved garlic, and sorghum. The bird is from Green Circle Farms in Pennsylvania: “I haven’t had a better bird in this country,” Shaner said.
Shaner is joined by sous chef Maureen Neer. The two know each other from Homestead. One thing they won’t have on the menu is a burger. Shaner is anti-burger and against decorative “swooshes” on plates. One thing the menu will have is an explanation of their employment philosophy. Food costs will be adjusted so Royal Grocer can pay their staff more than a typical restaurant and retain them. Those prices may be a little more than what some customers expect: “You can’t pay a decent line cook $12 an hour and expect them to stick around,” Neer said.
They’ve worked hard on the interiors, restoring the original tin ceiling in the kitchen. It feels more open than the old restaurant. There’s also a 100-seat patio facing Damen. The space is ideal for a few cocktails, which is beverage director Meghan Konecny’s specialty. She’s worked at Sportsman’s Club, Scofflaw, and Red Door. Expect a frozen Irish coffee and frosé. Konecny is eager to hear input from locals that she can use creating the drink list. While the bar will stay open to 2 a.m. on most nights, the focus is on the food: “This is a restaurant that has dope drinks, it’s not a cocktail bar that has food,” Konecny said.
Shaner has assembled a staff that he trusts, and hopes he can give the neighborhood seasonal, approachable menus. He learned to love food after living in France as a teen, and before becoming a chef he wanted to teach sociology as a college professor.
“I want people who eat the way I do,” Shaner. “People who eat for an experience...trying new things.”
Royal Grocer is waiting for city approvals, so check out the team’s social media accounts for updates on when they will open.