After 14 months, the owners of Fat Rice are back with a new more casual restaurant in the same space. NoodleBird, the new “Asian-inspired diner” from Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo, is open in Fat Rice’s previous Logan Square location. Fat Rice announced its closure in June 2020 after a storm of controversy when former workers spoke out about mistreatment.
Fat Rice was packaged as a Macanese restaurant, which allowed Conlon (who has Portuguese roots) and Lo (who is Chinese American) to interpret food from the former colony of the Portuguese empire off China’s coast. In addition to Macau, Fat Rice and NoodleBird cook food inspired by China, India, Malaysia, and Africa. The formula worked, garnering national acclaim and awards. Fat Rice helped bring a buzz to Logan Square, and other would-be restaurant owners took notice in hopes of opening their own spots in the neighborhood.
Conlon and Lo have been prepping to reopen for months, working on their menus and messaging; there’s even a “values” section. The NoodleBird website even addresses cultural appropriation claims, a cloud that hovered above Fat Rice’s eight-year existence: “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our wonderful friends who taught us and supported our mission to present a creative interpretation of Macanese homestyle cooking at Fat Rice over the years,” the website reads.
NoodleBird’s menu is casual, with charcoal chicken, char siu pork collar, and spicy peel-and-eat shrimp as the main dishes. Noodles and dumplings are other attractions.
Lo and Conlon have been away from the public eye since last year when workers posted a series of allegations on Instagram, claiming Conlon’s temper and attitude created a toxic work environment. There were claims of racism and disrespect for colleagues. An Instagram video captured workers burning their Fat Rice uniforms outside the restaurant. Last year, workers also questioned how money was distributed from a COVID-19 fundraiser.
In preparation for reopening, Lo contacted some of her former aggrieved employees. She sought their input as the restaurant that would become NoodleBird opened. With NoodleBird, Lo and Conlon say they’ve learned from Fat Rice’s mistakes and pledge to create a more nurturing environment. At NoodleBird, the restaurant is offering workers a $25 per hour wage, according to an opening announcement that went out in July. But even before the closure, Fat Rice announced in 2018 that it would be offering health insurance coverage to workers, something that’s seldom seen in the restaurant world. Those benefits didn’t soothe workers who took to the Internet to share their anger last year. On a related note, NoodleBird doesn’t currently have an active Instagram account.
The Tribune first reported news of the opening.
NoodleBird, 2957 W. Diversey Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.