Kal’ish, one of the city’s top spots for casual meat- and dairy-free dining, is permanently closed after six years at 1313 W. Wilson Avenue in Uptown. Co-owners and spouses Gina and Andy Kalish announced the closure on Wednesday, January 25 in a post to Facebook, much to the dismay of fans across the city and suburbs. There is, however, a bright spot on the horizon: a forthcoming replacement restaurant, also vegan, that the pair describe as “spicy, delicious, and a lot less fried.”
Founded in 2016, Kal’ish was originally conceived as a friendly, casual introduction to vegan food with a voluminous menu designed to attract customers with a range of dietary preferences. A counter-service spot with large windows that filled the space with light, it accrued a following in the area for meat-free chicken “Clucker” nuggets, dense and filling sandwiches, and raw, abundant salads. In late 2020, the couple opened Sam & Gertie’s, Chicago’s sole vegan Jewish deli, in a neighboring space.
Unlike many of its industry peers that have closed in recent years, the revenue stream at Kal’ish remained strong through the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Andy Kalish. But that was due in large part to takeout and delivery orders, and the dramatic drop in walk-in traffic remained even as pandemic policies lifted.
Simultaneously, the couple noticed a marked change in the items customers preferred. “Sometimes walk-ins would buy salads, but mostly, people were buying the most indulgent of our indulgent foods — mac and cheese, Reubens, cake, pudding, s’more’s cookies,” he says. “I think that was a matter of comfort when you’re locked in and freaking out about the world, you want salty, fatty, fried, and sugary foods.”
The co-owners reluctantly altered the menu in an effort to attune Kal’ish to its patrons’ desires, but over time, they began to realize the restaurant’s evolution felt less and less like a representation of themselves. They didn’t want it to become a virtual kitchen, devoid of community, slinging fried faux meats. The couples’ daily walks became brainstorming sessions, opportunities to share their frustrations and aspirations freely.
“The accents that made our menu colorful and vibrant — and anything that resembled healthful — had fallen by the wayside,” Andy Kalish says. “That was a frustration for us both, particularly Gina. She likes lettuce, peppers, colorful foods, all the things that people should be eating to live to 100 healthfully — that’s what she craves. And while Kal’ish was not that, there were parts of [the menu] that had enough of it that she felt good.”
In time, these chats spawned fresh inspiration for a new restaurant in the space. The co-owners aren’t yet sharing what they have planned, but a name and more details will be announced in the near future.