A new eatery that takes inspiration from Mexico and other Latin American countries — adding a hint of Chicago flavor — will call a well-known Lincoln Park restaurant space home next year. Former Quiote chef Ross Henke is back in the kitchen and plans to debut Mundano in winter 2020 inside the former Blanchard space that’s sat vacant for a year and a half.
Don’t expect Mundano to mimic Quiote, a boundary-pushing Mexican restaurant with a basement mezcal bar. While Henke earned a fanbase over the last three years in Logan Square, he wants to evolve. He described Quiote’s menu as 80 percent Mexican and 20 percent new American. The latter term describes how American chefs dip into global influences and embrace multiculturalism. Mundano will flip that ratio as the majority of the menu will feature new American food that’s rooted in Latin American cuisine.
“I have to be aware of who I am,” Henke said. “I’m a Polish-Irish kid from the South Side and I’m not rooted in Mexican culture. But I want to give it the respect that it’s earned and deserved.”
Henke notes how Mi Tocaya Antojeria chef/owner Diana Dávila strikes the right notes on all of her dishes “insanely well.” Dávila, Eater Chicago’s 2018 Chef of The Year, is a Mexican-American from Chicago who can directly tap into the culture. For Henke, Mundano provides a chance to carve a new path.
Henke said he’s been enjoying his “unexpected vacation” since acclaimed Logan Square Mexican restaurant Quiote closed in August. After the restaurant’s demise, Mundano owners Baligh and Moe Abu-Taleb approached Henke. The brothers own Mesa Urbana in suburban Glenview and are also opening a second location in Portage Park. The Abu-Talebs dined at Quiote, and pitched Henke to come work in Lincoln Park.
Front-of-house manager Trista Baker will reunite with Henke at Mundano. Baker left Quiote to launch the Restaurant Culture Association, a not-for-profit group aimed at improving the working conditions in the hospitality industry. RCA has held forums discussing harassment, health insurance, and other topics.
Henke watched Baker build a strong culture based on respect at Quiote. He wants to expand upon that at Mundano, create a strong rapport with RCA, and develop positive workplace policies. Henke didn’t anticipate that Baker would miss working at restaurants and was contemplating a return. RCA was off to a successful launch with the right mix of active board members and others who bought into the group’s mission. It turns out that the timing was right for her to accept the front-of-house manager job at Mundano.
Henke believes Mundano’s positive workplace policies could be an example to other Chicago restaurants. “It’s one of those things, people want to do the right thing but don’t know how to go about doing it,” Henke said.
He added: “A lot of people know how to cook now — what’s the next thing we can do to better restaurants?”
Baker mentioned the Sexual Harassment Victim Representation Act which goes into effect next month across Illinois. Restaurant owners are scrambling to find out how to comply and ensure their workers receive the proper anti-harassment trainings. The state will provide free trainings which mitigate restaurant owners’s concerns surrounding costs. The city recently announced a plan to increase minimum wage, so many owners have adopted a sky-is-falling mentality and fear that business is getting too expensive.
Owners should spend more on their employees, investing in wages, health care, and other benefits, Baker said. The worker turnover rate at restaurants is notoriously high. Keeping employees happy helps retention and the quality of service and food.
“To me, in the long run, it’s going to save a lot of money,” Baker said. “It’s pretty astonishing when you think of how much time and effort and money is going into re-training your staff every time you lose someone.”
Baker and Henke didn’t say much about Quiote’s closure. Baker had already departed before the sudden announcement. Henke appreciated the opportunity owner Dan Salls gave him, particularly in how he developed his leadership skills.
Mundano replaces the Blanchard, the French bistro at 1935 N. Lincoln Park West where chef Jason Paskewitz, now at the United Center’s Queenie’s Supper Club, starred. It closed in June 2018. Before the Blanchard, the space was the Chicago location of Michael’s Hot Dogs, a Highland Park institution.
Mundano’s owners are related to Anan Abu-Taleb, the mayor of Oak Park. The suburban mayor has his own restaurant ventures running Pizza Capri in Lincoln Park and Hyde Park, Maya Del Sol in Oak Park, as well as Monnie Burke’s in Pilsen. His restaurants are independent from Mundano’s ownership group.
Baker and Henke teased the announcement of Mundano’s beverage director and said they’ll share the news soon. The Tribune first reported the story.
Mundano, 1935 N. Lincoln Park West, Scheduled to open winter 2020.