The pandemic has forced all restaurant workers into unfamiliar territory. Over at Hash, a Wicker Park breakfast favorite — a casual restaurant known for a variety of hashes — a former server was presented a chance at ownership. Earlier this month, the restaurant reopened with a new look and menu that hopes to keep the restaurant’s same friendliness while adding items made with ingredients from local purveyors.
Emily McKern joined Hash Chicago in November. The restaurant opened seven years ago, establishing itself as an affordable breakfast and brunch option that drew families and hipsters alike. It utilized counter service, a quintessential “turn and burn” joint, McKern says. The menu offered plenty for vegans, families, and more.
But novel coronavirus hit and the restaurant closed its dining room. Operating owner Maggie McCoy expressed desire to sell, and real estate developer Mark Sutherland asked McKern if she was interested in taking over. McKern consulted with her partner, Mitch Buller, and they pulled the trigger. It was hard to explain to friends and family that they signed the contract on April Fools Day.
“It’s insane, it’s everything I ever wanted from working in hospitality over the last 10 years,” McKern says.
They’re not ready to open for dine in, but carryout debuted on July 1. There is a patio, but McKern has elected to keep that closed; not all customers are respectful of safety guidelines. McKern and her crew remodeled the space, taking out the counter. McKern says she wanted to add a little bit more hospitality to the space. She added service stations, painted the walls and adorned them with new art while installing new light fixtures.
Seven of Hash’s entrees remain, but the rest of the menu is new. McKern wants to highlight better ingredients — they’ll use genuine Vermont maple syrup. While that’s an exception, McKern is using local companies. She’s friends with the folks behind Soothsayer Hot Sauce (they have a variety called “Malört Face”). Soothsayer is making a special concoction for the restaurant called “Hashes to Hashes.” The restaurant will continue as BYO.
Restaurants like Hash are important to the communities they serve. While social distancing is a barrier, McKern wants to provide a place for safe interactions that can put a smile on customers’ faces. She also wants to partner with community groups, especially important to her as the George Floyd protests brought awareness to several issues surrounding equality. McKern, who worked for Royal Grocer Co. — also in Wicker Park — wants to keep Hash’s momentum going. As a career server, she’s thankful that her dream of running a restaurant “fell into her lap.”
“The concept of this place is what brought people back,” McKern says. “It’s super no frills, it’s simplicity — the comfort of the place means everything to the crowd that comes here.”
Hash, 1357 N. Western Avenue, (773) 661-2964, open for takeout and delivery from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday in July.