Shuttered restaurants may find new life occasionally, but few have resurrected under these circumstances. Last week, Vajra, an acclaimed Indian and Nepalese restaurant in West Town, announced its return after a three-month slumber. What’s unique about this reopening is another restaurant had already taken over the space.
Sketch, an Afro Asian restaurant that sprouted from a Fulton Market pop-up, made a bold splash when it hosted a late-night party during James Beard Award weekend in May in the Vajra space. Vajra has not yet announced its closure, yet hundreds of out-of-town visitors who had no idea the space once welcomed diners who devoured momos and tandoori goat, crammed into the building and danced the night away.
Fast forward to Labor Day and it’s like Vajra never left. Chef Min Thapa is back after a detour with Rishi, a delivery-only restaurant. Acclaimed bartender Juan Morales is not. Owner Dipesh Kakshapaty says he wants to host private events and holiday parties; he hasn’t decided on bringing back indoor dining. Vajra has been takeout-only since March 2020 with the onset of COVID. The restaurant never welcomed back in-person dining after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial order to close dining rooms. Kakshapaty says the decision to reopen Vajra happened over the course of three days after Sketch’s ownership walked away from the space.
Sketch’s owner Mo Carter says her food — which mixes Black, Asian, and Latin influences (she calls it Negrasian), will return — but the time spent examining market conditions and the Vajra space has informed her that the concept is better mobile, where it can affect different communities. Sketch — and Carter’s other operation, a supper series called Adelaide Hall — has popped up in Chicago, Oakland, New York, and Carter’s hometown of Atlanta.
Carter has worked for Jimmy Bannos Sr. at the Purple Pig, One Off Hospitality, Land & Sea Dept., and Boka. She’s built connections through her career, and that’s how she routed visitors in Chicago for the Beard Awards to her restaurant so quickly, before the restaurant was ever open. In Chicago, she craved to bring a vivacious energy to West Town, one that was sustainable, not just a one-night wonder. That’s what brought her pop-up to the former Cemita Puebla space, 817 W. Fulton Market. There’s an effort to unite Black creatives through art and giving all BIPOC larger career opportuniteis within the industry.
“Fulton Market has a homogenous look,” Carter says. “Everyone looks the same. It’s time to shake things up.”
Carter says sit-down dining experiences where customers can gather and enjoy a meal while listening to music together and seeing art is integral to the cultural experience she wants to create. Look for more news on Sketch’s future soon.
Kakshapaty found over the summer Carter to assume the rest of their lease as the pandemic had him soured on the the future of the industry. But the sublet-like arrangement fell through. While Sketch figures out its next move, Vajra is back — for now. Kakshapaty says they’re considering bringing the brand to Albany Park, but that’s something he’ll work out with his friend, Pravin Khadka, who owned Rishi.
Vajra, 1329 W. Chicago Avenue, now open for takeout.