Correction: The original version of this story used the wrong name for the restaurant. The restaurant’s name is 1308 Chicago. The story has been updated with the correct name.
When Kimberly Moore, founder and president of local firm KDM Engineering, relocated her business in April 2020 from downtown’s Wacker Drive to a larger loft space, just west of Goose Island, she felt a little guilty. The move, which came amid the earliest and most uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t the problem – Moore felt she couldn’t pass on the rare opportunity to become an anchor tenant in an area on the edge of enormous growth — but suddenly, her employees’ dining options in walking distance became scarce.
“I felt so bad, I took everyone away from a Starbucks and Chipotle on every corner,” says Moore. “I thought, I’ve got to do something because I’m going to start losing people. Now they have to drive to get food, they have to park. The least I can do is get a food truck or something.”
Two years later, the KDM team — and the area in general — wound up with a lot more than a casual kitchen on wheels. In July, Moore opened 1308 Chicago, a Black- and woman-owned full-service restaurant and bar channeling speakeasy vibes. Restaurants, and especially bars, owned by Black women remain few and far between on the city’s North Side, and Moore may be part of a sea change led by operators such as Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle of lauded LGBTQ bar Nobody’s Darling in Andersonville. Moore’s location near the Salt Shed, the new concert venue where the former Morton Salt warehouse once stood, also positions her on the front lines of a burgeoning development near Elston and Division, long an industrial area connecting Lincoln Park and West Town.
With a menu from chef Brooks Hart, formerly of Stephanie Izard’s retro-style Little Goat Diner in West Loop; he also opened Bar Pastoral in Lakeview. Hart’s menu highlights vegetarian and seafood dishes, common preferences among team members. Though Moore designed the restaurant with employees in mind, it is open to the public at 1308 N. Elston Avenue. The restaurant is a worker amenity, much in the way nearby Dusk Bar and Gallery before it closed in May.
Moore and Hart have dubbed 1308 Chicago a “speak eatery” – a term they coined to invoke elements of a Prohibition-era drinking den intertwined with an intimate dining spot, complete with a Cotton Club-esque soundtrack. Space is limited at 30-35 seats and balances a contemporary color palette of yellows, blues, and reds with old school elements including bare Edison bulbs and a steep back bar lined with glass bottles. The historic Chicago theme extends to the cocktails, such as the tequila-based Bloody Valentine with hibiscus chili syrup and Bugs’ Bourbon Smash, named for notorious local gangster George “Bugs” Moran.
The food menu, however, departs from the realm of Capone and his crew with a jaunt to the American South. Options include Hart’s version of corn ribs, a spareribs-inspired Tik Tok sensation, carrots and grits with dukkah, and a butter burger that Moore claims will give popular Chicago burger spot Au Cheval a run for its money. “He has a Southern heart,” Moore says of Hart. “Nice portions, a lot of butter – a way-to-my-soul kind of chef.”
A lifelong Chicagoan, Moore hadn’t planned on entering the hospitality industry and has heard horror stories. Close friend of Amy Lawless offered advice. Lawless’s family is entrenched in the bar and food world — she owns the Dearborn in the Loop with sister Clodough. Brother Billy owns the Gage, the Dawson and others.
Moore didn’t want to be associated with those tales of frustration, so she’s trying to take a different approach as a restaurant owner: “When I heard what a restaurant minimum wage was, I said ‘Oh no. We are not doing that,” she says.
Hourly front-and back-of-house workers have a starting salary of $15 an hour plus tips, and salaried positions like beverage director are tipped as well. As other restaurants across the city continue to face staffing challenges, Moore says she didn’t have trouble finding employees. Her restaurant is only open on weekdays for better work-life balance.
Business is bustling, according to Moore, but she’s keeping her eye trained on the horizon as the area surrounding the restaurant continues to grow and develop with new development, including the aforementioned Salt Shed, ready to take off.
“There are going to be 6,000 people eventually in that venue,” she says. “All those people aren’t going to eat ahead of time or at the venue, they’re going to spread that love to us and everyone else in the neighborhood. There’s going to be a lot that everybody over here can participate in.”
1308 Chicago, 1308 N. Elston Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.