The owners of Revival Food Hall and Dusek’s/Thalia Hall are part of a $30 million project awaiting city approval that could reshape the area surrounding Goose Island. The development at 1357 N. Elston Avenue — the former Morton Salt warehouse just north of Elston and Division — would bring restaurants, bars, and entertainment to a 4.25-acre space overlooking the Chicago River where diners would be able to eat along the water.
The details of the project haven’t been released, but for the last few years, R2 Companies has been gobbling up property in the area, priming it for development. They unveiled a new building in 2019 on the island on the other side of the river from the warehouse. One of the anchor tenants is Passion House Coffee Roasters, and coffeeshop owner Josh Millman has high hopes. Millman calls R2 “innovative and intuitive” and has faith that they’ll deliver a development that will be beneficial to the area. As restaurants struggle during the pandemic, Passion House has seen a silver lining thanks to move tenants moving into office space in the area, including companies like CB2.
“There are some days where we’re seeing better numbers than pre-COVID,” Millman says. “I’m not saying all days, but it gives you hope, it gives you a glimmer of what’s possible.”
Renderings show a revamped riverwalk, and Millman says there are plans for art installations along the river banks. The stretch of Division between Elston and Halsted sees little pedestrian traffic, and beyond Goose Island Shrimp House, Passion House is the only restaurant business along the strip.
“I know that’s going to change, and I think it’s really going to be great for the neighborhood,” Millman says.
The project has already evolved. While renderings show a roastery, Millman says such a facility is too small for the space. Expect changes compared to what’s depicted in the drawings.
Along with R2, Blue Star Properties is a co-developer. The company was also the developer of the building that houses Revival — the Loop food hall that was a smash hit after opening in 2016 until the pandemic drove office workers from downtown. Like Revival, Blue Star’s food and beverage arm — 16” on Center — is poised to be part of the Elston project. 16” on Center’s Bruce Finkelman is keeping mum for now — both he and R2 principal and Chief Investment Officer Max Meyers tell Eater Chicago they’re waiting for the city’s zoning approval before sharing project details.
Morton Salt departed the warehouse in December 2016. For motorists along the Kennedy Expressway, the building’s iconic mural featuring the company’s famous Salt Girl is familiar site just beyond the northbound Division exit. Developers say they’ll preserve the logo. For music fans, the logo has been long associated with Jawbreaker, a punk band that reunited to headline Riot Fest in 2017 in Douglas Park. Since the project has a concert venue component, music fans — including Reader music writer Leor Gahil — continue to make a connection. Finkelman, who runs music venues Thalia Hall and Empty Bottle, on Friday did not comment on Jawbreaker.
As the pandemic has kept Empty Bottle closed, Finkelman revamped his neighboring diner, the former Bite Cafe, into a pizzeria featuring the talents of Noah Sandoval, the chef behind Michelin-starred Oriole, a fine dining restaurant in West Loop. Pizza Friendly Pizza was one the city’s more successful restaurant openings of 2020.