Minahasa, a regional Indonesian food stall that grew from a virtual spot out of chef John Avila’s home into a space inside Revival Food Hall in the Loop, will close after more than two years in business. Its final day is set for Friday, February 24 at 125 S. Clark Street, Avila announced on Instagram.
As in the case of numerous restaurant and bar closures in the Loop, Avila says the problem stems from limited foot traffic as workers trickle back into offices in the area. “The occupancy around Downtown is just not what it needs to be,” he says. “We’re not seeing the numbers, so it’s really not sustainable right now.”
Despite the restaurant’s departure from the Loop, Avila plans to keep fighting for Minahasa’s success and hopes to continue business with pop-ups around town. Avila sees a path to success via Boonie Foods, a fellow Revival alum. The Filipino American stall found a permanent space and launched a crowdfunding campaign. Avila is aiming to raise $50,000 on GoFundMe for a future stand-alone location and says it’s heartening to hear from friends and supporters who want to help coordinate events.
“It’s just a bump in the road, hopefully,” he says. “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep it open here but it just wasn’t the way I wanted to portray Indonesian food. Hopefully, I can have a chance to have a brick-and-mortar to express myself and the culture a little bit better.”
Inspired by the cuisine of the Minahasa Peninsula in the mountains of North Sulawesi, Indonesia — the birthplace of his mother, (known as Mama Betty) — Avila originally conceived Minahasa in fall 2020 shortly after departing the sous chef position at Gibsons Italia amid a pandemic downsizing. A veteran Chicago chef, he dove into his own Indonesian Filipino American heritage and unveiled a sentimental menu of soto ayam (a golden chicken soup piled with toppings), spicy ayam tuturaga (chicken, yellow curry, lemongrass, lime leaves), and steamed sweet pandan and coconut layer cake.
By early 2021, the mother-son team had snagged a spot inside Revival and became a rare outpost for Indonesian food in the city. Rickshaw Republic closed in 2020 in Lincoln Park, which at the time left fellow parent-child collaborators Chris and Priscilla Reed of Bumbu Roux as the city’s sole Indonesian spot (Bumbu Roux continues with a food truck and pop-up operation even though Politan Row food hall has closed). Avila is among a small community of Chicagoans who have in recent years sought to bring Southeast Asian cuisines to the fore, including Victor Low (Serai) of Peranakan restaurant Kapitan in Lincoln Park, Cambodian chefs Ethan Lim (Hermosa) and Mona Sang (Khmai Fine Dining), and siblings Stacy and chef Keo Seuamsothabandith (Laos to Your House).
Revival Food Hall pivoted in 2020 to fill its vendor lineup with upstart restaurants, like Minahasa, providing the Loop venue with a dynamic feel after many restaurants pulled out of the hall, needing to protect resources during a time of uncertainty. With Minahasa and Bonnie Foods’ exits, 16” on Center (Dusek’s, Pizza Friendly Pizza, MONEYGUN) has some big vacancies.
In the meantime, patrons have ten days to stop in for Mama Betty’s eggrolls in the Loop.