Daniel Krause has spent countless hours inside a hot and cramped mobile kitchen slinging eggs and bacon since he launched the Cracked Truck back in 2012 in downstate Champaign. He’ll use those hard-earned lessons when he opens his first Chicago restaurant. Krause plans to debut Cracked on Milwaukee sometime before October 1 at 1359 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.
“The truck taught me the Murphy’s law of the restaurant industry — anything that can go wrong will go wrong on a day-to-day basis in a truck,” said Krause, noting regular struggles with lights, water, and refrigeration. He vividly recalls a sweltering summer day with little ventilation when he had enough: “I was like, ‘fuck this, we’re opening a restaurant.’”
The Wicker Park spot will feature the familiar menu as the Cracked truck, including portable items like loaded tater tots, the “Morning Bender” sandwich (cheddar, hash browns, fried egg, cream cheese), plus classic sit-down breakfast and brunch items. Diners can also anticipate dishes like biscuits and gravy and chilaquiles. Krause also plans to offer boozy brunch drinks like mimosas and Bloody Marys, plus draft beer.
The 2,400 square-foot space in Wicker Park seats around 55, and will offer table service as well as a walk-up counter, embracing Cracked’s quick-bite-to-go roots. Krause and business partner Elliott West built out portions of the space themselves. Krause plans to add a mural of the Chicago skyline in the style of the truck’s colorful wrap. He plans to open up patio seating next summer. It’s the former Le Duck space.
Krause opened this first restaurant, Cracked on Green, in 2017 in Champaign. Opening a restaurant can result in “visions of grandeur,” he warned: “You have all this space, your mind just goes crazy with ideas and you have to put it back in check,” he said. “We need to keep it simple and make sure food flies out of the kitchen in quality way.”
Krause added a second truck in 2017. “I was still in the mindset of being a truck company,” he said. “Watching how expensive it was to go from one to two trucks, to operate, house, and maintain them — it was a freaking nightmare.”
After building a customer base, Krause wondered if the food trucks were worth the effort. That’s why he opened the Champaign restaurant. West, who joined him in 2016 after attending culinary school, helped open that restaurant. He worked as general manager for two years. Another partner, Lewis Nisbet, joined Cracked last year and operates the Champaign location.
Champaign is the home of the University of Illinois. If tater tots from college towns along Milwaukee Avenue sound familiar, look across the street. East Lansing, Michigan’s Conrad’s Grill opened in October in Wicker Park. It’s a Michigan State University favorite.
Meanwhile, Krause plans to slim down from two trucks to one as he tries to make his brand lean and mean. The company’s name is Cracked: The Egg Came First. Stay tuned for more news as the restaurant progresses. Block Club first reported this story.