By mid-afternoon Wednesday in Ukrainian Village, Tim Flores and Genie Kwon were spent, tired from a busy day. Customers had snagged up all the food at Kasama, the couple’s anticipated restaurant where Flores would serve up Filipino food and Kwon would bake her acclaimed pastries. It’s hardly the opening they expected, inside the former Winchester space at Winchester and Augusta. The back patio isn’t open yet, the freezer just arrived Wednesday afternoon. Kwon’s pastry laminator was even acting up.
But Wednesday was a success as Kwon and Flores battled through the typical antics associated with opening a restaurant in addition to the added pressures of the pandemic. They’ve been battle tested. Flores most recently worked at Mako, chef B.K. Park’s Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in West Loop. Kwon worked at famed New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Four years ago, the two helped open Oriole, Cara and Noah Sandoval’s Michelin-starred tasting menu restaurant. Having done their tours of duty working in fine dining, Kasama was to be a bakery in the morning and sit-down restaurant at night. The pandemic scrapped those plans in the interim, as Kasama will evolve with the environment.
For now, they’re pick-up only, and customers can order via Uber Eats from a condensed menu that includes lumpia, croissants, and adobo chicken wings. The wings were always in the mix, but Kasama is now partnering with Uber on the the Ultimate Wing Showdown. The stunt pairs restaurants with a celebrity meant to inspire a new wing recipe to go along with the regular menu. Kasama was paired with Filipino-American stand-up comic Jo Koy, and will feature his adobo chicken wings with garlic fried rice. “It is a perfect pairing,” Flores writes in an email.
Flores’ best friend, Carlos Matias, was at the restaurant helping out. Matias, a star bartender who’s worked at restaurants including Michelin-starred Band of Bohemia (he’s also an advocate for Popeyes chicken sandwich), will aid Kwon and Flores in assembling a wine and drink list when they start on-premise service. For now, there’s a modest sidewalk patio on Winchester to enjoy grab-and-go items.
Other items include casual, summery bites like barbecue pork skewers (grilled pork shoulder, herb salad), charred corn (scallion mayonnaise, wasabi tobiko, nori citrus powder), and a Filipino breakfast with fried egg, garlic fried rice, and pickled green papaya. Kwon specializes in laminated pastries, and her sweet and savory submissions include apple and cheese croissants (apple butter, raclette cheese fondue), chocolate chip cookies, and ube and huckleberry Basque cakes.
Kasama — a Tagalog word that means “together” — was originally designed to be a friendly neighborhood restaurant offering Filipino-American dishes, but the pandemic has forced the duo to pivot toward takeout and delivery-friendly items that still bear their fine-dining hallmark. They’ve also had to rethink their staffing and benefits strategy, according to Block Club Chicago. The restaurant will open with six or seven staffers, as opposed to the 18-22 they hoped for, and the pair will cover workers’s health insurance by adding a 4-percent service charge onto each check.
These are strange times to be in the restaurant business and Flores and Kwon find themselves in a unique situation as first-time independent restaurant owners. So far, they’ve been overwhelmed by neighborhood support. Check social media for updates on opening times. The married couple will add more items as they feel more comfortable.