Tim Flores and Genie Kwon have worked at several high-profile restaurants across the country: Kwon worked at New York’s famous Eleven Madison Park, the couple helped debut Fulton Market’s acclaimed Oriole, and Flores would later aid the opening at Michelin-starred Mako in West Loop. Those experiences taught the duo that culinary skills are just part of the challenge in running a restaurant. Flores and Kwon plan to apply those learnings when the duo opens their restaurant and daytime cafe, Kasama.
Though armed with a wealth of experiences, and the support of their friends who have anxiously waited for the husband-and-wife team to open a restaurant, the couple remains modest.
“All we want to do is cook food,” Flores said.
Kasama, a Tagalog word meaning “together,” should open in late spring at 1001 N. Winchester Avenue in West Town. During the day, it’ll feature Kwon’s French pastries (she specializes in croissants and other laminated goods). For lunch, staff will sling sandwiches with Filipino-American flavors. At night, the space will then flip so Flores can showcase more composed Filipino-American dishes.
The couple met in 2014 when Flores was the head expediter at GT Fish & Oyster in River North. Back then, Kasama was a pipe dream. But restaurants like Isla Pilipina, Ruby’s Fast Food, and — more recently — Bayan Ko and Cebu, have broken barriers in Chicago.
“I never thought I was going to open anything Filipino,” Flores said.
Together, the couple has worked to assemble the pieces, to create a space where Kwon’s pastries could star and where Flores had the chance to redefine what Chicagoans think about Pinoy dishes. The two started dating in 2015 and got married in 2018 when a road trip took them through Las Vegas. Kwon and Flores opened Oriole, the acclaimed Fulton Market restaurant run by another couple, Cara and Noah Sandoval. A two-Michelin star restaurant, Oriole is one of the hardest reservations in town. Its hospitality is well known thanks to tiny touches like sending guests off with complimentary mini-pies baked by Kwon.
They may have pies at Kasama, but there won’t be freebies.
“Making 40 pies is way different than what we are going to do,” Kwon said with laughter.
The former Winchester space has about 45 seats on the patio with 60 seats inside. There aren’t plans for a tasting menu. Flores wants a true neighborhood restaurant where locals can afford to eat meals a few times a week. They want to keep things loose and informal. There will be a small cocktail list, and a bar. Flores wants customers to embrace wine with Filipino food.
Kwon specializes in laminated pastries. Her father was born in Japan, her mother in South Korea. Kwon’s philosophy is to keep croissants simple and to ensure her quality is consistent. Weekends will offer an opportunity to serve more of a traditional Filipino breakfast that will masquerade as brunch. Folks who have dined at Uncle Mike’s Place and tried the West Town restaurant’s skirt steak and garlic fried rice have an idea of what to expect.
The couple has traveled across the country, and globally. They’ve noticed Chicago’s bakery/cafe culture differs a lot compared to other cities. In particular, Republique, a cafe that opened in 2014 in LA, wowed them. Kwon senses the winds are changing in Chicago. with more customers willing to embrace fancy bakeries like Lost Larson in Andersonville.
Kwon said “she always knew she would open a place like” Kasama with the bakery component. With several stints as a pastry chef working at restaurants, Kwon felt there was only so much more that she could prove.
Kasama’s kare kare, oxtail stew, is a good example of what Flores and Kwon will try to accomplish. Instead of serving it with rice, Flores will lean on Kwon’s expertise with bread and they’ll serve the dish with paratha. That’s a thin, flaky flatbread served in South India that shares similarities with laminated pastries. The bread is perfect for sopping up the stew, Flores said.
“I just want people to see Filipino food in a different light,” Flores said.
There’s ample outdoor space. Flores pondered firing up the grill for street meat skewers. There’s also room for a traditional Filipino pig roast. There are possibilities.
When Flores’s father immigrated from Olongapo, a northwestern city in the Philippines, he moved into an apartment at Division and Leavitt. When his mother first arrived to Chicago, she lived at Augusta and Oakley. Both locations are within minutes of Kasama, which stands at the corner of Winchester and Augusta.
“It’s all full circle,” Kwon said.
Stay tuned for updates.
Kasama, 1001 N. Winchester Avenue, planned for a late spring opening.