The owners of Radio Rumba want to transform Humboldt Park’s Paseo Boricua with a multi-faceted project that includes a restaurant, club, rum distillery, hotel, and music venue. The complex intends to celebrate Caribbean culture with nods to 1930s Havana. Construction could begin in September just west of Division and Western on the complex that’ll stretch 18 parcels.
Ownership hopes to open the $10.6 million project sometime in summer 2019 on the 2400 block of West Division Street. Division Street Hospitality Group is taking notes from the House of Blues, City Winery, and other successful projects that have mixed food and music. Edwin Rios is the former owner of Rumba, a Latin American club that was open from 2002 to 2012 on Hubbard Street in River North. David Herrera is a real estate developer who grew up near the project’s site.
“This is a category killer because no one else has ever tried this,” Rios said.
The first-floor restaurant in the 24,000-square-foot space would be called Conga Supper Club with a menu full of Caribbean, Spanish, Colombian, Peruvian, Argentinian, and French Creole influences. Executive chef Javier Oitana has worked in Miami, Italy, and in his native Argentina. Expect grilled meats like a filet mignon churrasco, plus lobster ceviche, and more. The team, which includes real estate developer David Herrera — who grew up near the project’s site — have a detailed business plan with several sample menu items. There’s a barrage of soups (a Spanish chicken stew), salads, and a “Conga Roll” appetizer (filled with beef tenderloin, lobster, chihuahua cheese). Empanadas, paella, and brochettes are also on the menu. They’ll also have a banquet space for events between 21 and 100 people as well as five lounges.
Rios, when talking to Block Club Chicago — which first reported the development — described the project as a catalyst in transforming Division Street to a restaurant row akin to the trendy West Loop dining district along Randolph Street. Over the weekend, they met with interested parties in Miami, hoping to begin plans to bring a Radio Rumba to South Beach. The expansion plans helped bring in Oitana into the fold with the potential to oversee projects in other cities.
On the first floor, Matusalem Rumba Bar would feature one of the world’s largest collections of Caribbean rum. Owners also want to partner with a Caribbean rum maker on a distillery, perhaps aiding in North American distribution. The team knows the project is grand in scale, but they want to assure the public their investors are serious and are interested in longevity: “If it doesn’t get done by us, it won’t get done,” Rios said.
Rumba already has had contact with Live Nation Latino, and they envision 200 shows annually featuring internationally known Flamenco artists and more at the second-floor venue. As the World Cup’s going on through the month, Herrera also envisions opening a brewpub serving Costa Rican beer and showing soccer matches: “It’s something that you won’t be able to find at any other brewpub in Chicago,” he said.
There are challenges, including concerns within the neighborhood that they could be pushed out by outsiders, something Pilsen residents know all too well. Some diners in the mainstream still don’t value Latin American food and expect it to cost less compared to other genres. Yes, there is a such thing as “gastronomical bigotry.”
“At the end of the day, Ricky Ricardo did it right,” Rios said, talking about Cuban-born Desi Arnaz’s character from the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy. “Ricky Ricardo introduced the Latin exotic culture to Americana. What we are about to do is the exact same thing. I’m not breaking the rules; it’s been written.”