In January, Tied House, the restaurant that neighbors Schubas — the illustrious Lakeview music venue — rolled out a new menu that its owners and new chef hope will help draw more nearby customers on a regular basis. In some ways, Tied House — which opened in 2018 after Schubas ownership razed the old Harmony Grill — was a victim of its ambition. Though the food from opening chef Debbie Gold, a James Beard Award winner, was well received, ownership felt it needed a change.
“What we saw more and more is a special-occasion date-night situation,” said Adam Thurston, the COO and co-founder of Audiotree, the owners of Schubas and Tied House. “It just wasn’t something the neighborhood was thinking of for dinner on a weeknight.”
Lakeview — which starts at Diversey and Lake Shore Drive and goes to Racine and up to Irving Park — is unlike tourist-friendly spots like River North or West Loop. Locals are integral for success, especially for a larger space like Tied House which has 159 downstairs and private events upstairs with room for 250. When ownership announced Tied House, they said they wanted to open a restaurant worthy of Chicago’s vibrant hospitality scene. Neighborhood restaurants didn’t need to be dull.
Under Gold, dry-aged duck breast and other creative dishes earned critical praise, but that didn’t generate enough buzz in the neighborhood. Management promoted sous chef Ryan Carbone to replace Gold as executive chef in November.
Many Chicago music fans have waxed romantic about Schubas since it opened in 1989, sharing memories of shows and downing cheap canned beers at the bar. Tied House’s opening next door changed that dynamic. The new construction screamed fancy and expensive, at least compared to the burgers and pub fare served at Schubas. There was also not as much synergy compared to what Harmony Grill and Schubas enjoyed. But since the shift to the new menu and chef, Thurston said some of that cohesiveness has returned. More and more ticket holders for Schubas events are sticking around and having a post-show drink. The staff is trying hard to promote Tied House as more accessible. New menu items include fried chicken and wild boar tagliatelle
Lakeview is one Chicago’s most expensive zip codes. But residents aren't spending their restaurant dollars locally for expensive meals. They’d prefer to venture downtown, which is one of the reasons why Ty Fujimura last year moved his Michelin-starred Entente from Lakeview to River North.
“I’m an expert when it comes to struggling in Lakeview,” said Fujimura with a laugh.
Before Entente, which opened in 2016, Fujimura operated the second location of his sushi restaurant, Arami, in the space at 3056 N. Lincoln Avenue. Arami lasted two years before he hired chef Brian Fisher to start Entente. Entente earned a Michelin-star rating in 2018. Shooting for a Michelin star isn’t realistic for Lakeview restaurants, Fujimura said. But with patience, ownership can make a restaurant work.
“It’s difficult, but I think you basically can find your spot, you can find a niche in the community and you can be successful there,” Fujimura said.
A new owner has taken over the Lakeview space and will likely ticket it for something other than a restaurant, Fujimura said. He now has two restaurants at Time Out Market in Fulton Market (Entente and Arami), as well as the original Arami in Ukrainian Village and SmallBar in Logan Square.
Scott Worsham and wife Sari Worsham have run Mfk for six years in Lakeview. They opened Bar Biscay two years ago in West Town. They’ve talked about an over saturation of restaurants in Chicago. With heatmaps and similar lists, it’s hard to keep a customer’s attention.
“If you’re a 32-year-old restaurant, you’re not getting press,” Scott Worsham said.
Real estate plays a big part in a restaurant, but chefs should pay more attention to the needs of locals instead of just focusing if the space fits their concept, Scott Worsham added.
The Worshams also brought up third-party delivery services as a challenge for independent restaurant owners. Besides the percentage of sales — up to 30 percent — companies like DoorDash and Grubhub charge restaurants per order, customers don’t have the same bond with restaurants because they don’t visit. They just see them as entities on Grubhub’s portal.
“We don’t have as much of a ‘neighborhoody’ of a town as we used to have,” Sari Worsham said.