Matcha soft-serve ice cream and other Asian desserts are coming to Wicker Park courtesy of an LA-based chef. Rakki Cafe should open next month at 1375 N. Milwaukee Avenue, a former bike shop next to the still-vacant Filter Cafe space. Johnny Lee is a co-owner of the small space. He’s a chef known for Hainanese chicken at Side Chick in Los Angeles and also was chef du cuisine at Eggslut.
Lee said the cafe will also have pastries from Chinatown’s Chiu Quon Bakery, which may also make red bean paste for him. Other desserts will feature Asian flavors like black sesame.
But the soft serve will be the star. Lee said matcha soft serve is a rarity in the Chicago area, found only at Mitsuwa Marketplace in suburban Arlington Heights and at Hogsalt Hospitality’s Radio Anago in River North.
Chicago interested Lee thanks to its Chinatown. It’s one of the rare Chinatowns in America that’s growing. Chinese restaurant owners are even opening spots in neighboring Bridgeport. That provides Lee with an opportunity, but he doesn’t want to come off as an arrogant outsider. However, he does feel there are a few voids in the city’s offerings, and Lee hopes Rakki Cafe can fill a niche along Milwaukee Avenue’s Hipster Highway.
Lee helped open a similar cafe in LA called Matcha Matcha, although he wasn’t an owner. Rakki Cafe (rakki means “lucky” in Japanese) will obviously be a more personal venture for him. It won’t top the ice cream with Fruity Pebbles like Matcha Matcha does, as Lee doesn’t want to come off as cartoonish.He’s going for a more traditional take in Chicago.
The soft-serve flavors will rotate, but customers will always find matcha on tap. It’ll also serve matcha drinks. It’s a small space but Lee said they’ll try to fit a few seats inside. And yes, this West Coaster is well aware that he’s opening an ice cream shop just before winter strikes in Chicago.
For Chicagoans who hunger for Lee’s Hainanese chicken, Lee suggests patience. If Rakki Cafe is successful, perhaps he’ll open more restaurants. “I’m trying to stay fairly open,” Lee said.
Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks.