Erik Baylis of Big Onion Tavern Group has big dreams: he wants to raise $7,000,000 for families of kids with pediatric cancer. He plans to realize that goal with his new restaurant, Centre Street Kitchen, slated to open October 4 at 1224 W. Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park. The space formerly housed Big Onion-owned sports bar Derby, which closed in late July.
Baylis said he’s weary of negativity and cynicism, and wants to bring customers an experience that’s good for both the palate and the heart. A $100 donation (on top of the bill) earns diners a spot on the restaurant’s white walls, where Baylis plans to write the names of cancer patients and survivors. He hopes to fill the restaurant walls with names.
“I want everyone to be a part of it — we’re going to have an awesome, badass restaurant and I need everyone’s help to show that it’s fun to give back,” Baylis said. “I know from my non-for-profit work, giving back is like an addiction.”
The new American menu from Monica Riley (Hopleaf, LOKaL) and corporate chef Jim Heflin will integrate global flavors. A portion of the menu is devoted to small plates with a focus on seasonal, vegetable-forward dishes like a roasted cauliflower with guajillo glaze, cotija cheese, and spice-toasted pumpkin seeds. Hearty entrees will also be available, including a dry-aged New York strip and a house-smoked Amish half-chicken. “It’s a very new-school menu — no butter, no heavy cream,” said Heflin. Baylis wants would-be diners to know he takes the food seriously and expects to offer top-notch fare.
The enormous 5,100 square-foot restaurant will seat 112 inside and another 45 on an outdoor patio. It will house two bar spaces as well as a dining room. Baylis plans to decorate with fresh flowers and neon signs. Menus and other design details will offer playful prompts designed to promote kindness and positivity among customers.
Big Onion Tavern Group currently operates Fatpour Tap Works in Wicker Park and McCormick Place, as well as Hopsmith Tavern on the Near North Side and in Nashville, Tennessee. It also runs Old Town bar Woodie’s Flat, the Irish Oak in Wrigleyville, and Brunch in River North.
In 2016, Baylis co-founded a non-profit, Never Had A Bad Day, that distributes funds to the families of pediatric cancer patients and survivors. “Our donations intend to relieve financial strains on a family, so they can focus on treatment and a positive outlook,” the website reads.
Stay tuned for news as Centre Street Kitchen progresses.