The owner and chef of Komo, a West Loop restaurant opening Friday along Randolph Street have known each for years. Owner Nils Westlind first met chef Macku Chan when Westlind was 15 and working at a pet store in Evanston.
Chan had something hidden underneath his shirt and when Westlind asked about the bulge, the chef revealed he was holding a monkey.
“I wasn’t impressed,” Westlind says. “I had my own monkey.”
The two quickly became friends. Westlind offered Chan specials at the pet store and Chan returned the favor by hooking him up at his restaurants, where the teen couldn’t afford to eat on his own.
Though the monkeys are no longer around, Westlind and Chan’s friendship has endured. For the past decade, they’ve been talking about opening a restaurant together. Chan would go on to open Macku Sushi in Lincoln Park. His brothers are also accomplished chefs (Kaze Chan is at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Sushi-san). Westlind, now 36, has opened several venues including Ronero, which occupied the Komo space from 2017 to 2019, and Esco Bar, the cocktail lounge upstairs, which he took over at the end of the summer.
But the pandemic has made Westlind rethink his business model. It’s no longer possible to cram as many customers into a crowded space. He eventually applied the same logic to Komo: At 82 people, the capacity is smaller than Ronero’s.
The West Loop has high-end sushi spots like Momotaro, Makko, Omakase Yume, and Omakase Takeya. Westlind wanted his new restaurant to stick out: he’s touting Komo as a combination of a traditional Japanese coursed-out meal (kaiseki) with omakase. Chan has created a seven-course meal ($160) that includes chawanmushi (savory egg custard) and the always-popular A5 wagyu beef on a hot stone.
The menu is intentionally light, in case diners want to go upstairs to Esco Bar. Westlind says staff will happily help guests upstairs through the rear elevator. Esco Bar, which Westlind has taken to rebrand as Esco for its second iteration, initially specialized in rums. But with Chan onboard, Westlind has flexed to pump up the Japanese whisky selection.
“My clientele and chef Macku’s clientele were looking for a more mature experience, let’s say,” Westlind says.
The maturity extends to the decor. Westlind chose a lighter color scheme with more creams and pinks. There’s also a Carrara marble bar, and eventually there will be a bar menu to go with it.
Though the name Komo is a combination of kaiseki and omakase, it’s also a play on “como,” Spanish for “I eat,” a reflection of Westlind’s love of Latin culture: though born in California, he was raised in Colombia, and Spanish is his first language.
The pandemic was tough for Westlind who joined others in the industry in applying for COVID-19 relief funds. Esco Bar closed in October 2020, as landlords Shweta and Hital Bharwad figured out their next move. They would later reopen Jaipur, a beloved Indian restaurant that was on the south side of Randolph Street and had closed in 2018, inside the former Ronero. But that was a stop-gap measure since the restaurant’s neighbor was Rooh, a modern Indian restaurant that’s been packed since its debut.
Through all this, Westlind remained patient and is now ready to enter the world of fine dining. He even had a booth at Chicago Gourmet, the city’s big food party, to let everyone know about his and Chan’s new venture.
“This restaurant, it’s really about telling the story between Macku and myself,” he says.
Macku has remained closed in Lincoln Park, but Westlind says it’s preparing for a rebirth, and he’s one of the investors.
Komo, 738 W. Randolph Street, (312) 465-2250, opening Friday, October 1, reservations via Tock.