Rick Bayless’s Fonda Frontera served its final brunch on Sunday, ending a three-year run in Wicker Park. It’s the first Bayless standalone restaurant to shutter in Chicago, as Tortas Frontera in the Chase Tower in the Loop, which closed in 2015, is his only other shutter in the Windy City.
On the restaurant’s Facebook page Sunday afternoon, Bayless issued “a huge Thank You” to guests and said it was with a heavy heart that “the era of Fonda Frontera has reached its end.” Bayless concluded his post with “Hasta la proxima,” or “See you later” in Spanish.
In a written statement, Bayless elaborated on the departure and hinted at the challenges the venture faced and efforts to overcome through menu changes and a reconcepting. “We evolved our Wicker Park restaurant several times over the past three years in earnest attempts to give the neighborhood a great experience. While it hurts to shutter Fonda Frontera, we’re excited about some other fun projects in the pipeline,” Bayless said.
A Bayless spokesperson said that there are no immediate plans for the space, on the southeast corner of Honore Street and Milwaukee Avenue. Fonda Frontera’s building is owned by Newcastle Limited, which owns several other Milwaukee Avenue buildings on the 1400 and 1500 block of the street, packed with retail shops, restaurants and bars. An executive with Newcastle Limited did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The abrupt shuttering came as a surprise to the restaurant’s workers who say they got the news just minutes before the public did. All 35 workers employed at the restaurant will be getting a severance and some staffers will be transferred to other jobs within Frontera, a spokesperson said.
A few employees on Sunday night were huddled outside the closed restaurant at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. Patrick Ortiz said he’d just arrived after missing a team meeting earlier in the day when the closure was announced to the staff, after brunch service ended.
When Fonda Frontera opened in August 2014, initially as Xoco Bistro, it was Bayless’s first full-service restaurant outside of his Clark Street trio of Topolobampo, Frontera Grill and Xoco in River North. Xoco Bistro rebranded to Fonda Frontera in November 2016, months after changing its menu after slow business, especially during the week.
Like many establishments on the street, Ortiz said that business was very healthy on the weekends in Wicker Park, but it was the weekdays when crowds thinned. “There was not as much business as there used to be. We were strong on weekends,” Ortiz said.
Bayless, who stars in the PBS show Mexico — One Plate a Time, is best known locally for his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo Mexican restaurants.