Life at restaurants may feel more like it did before the pandemic began in 2020, but COVID’s impact remains fresh for many, and chef Mark Steuer cites it as one of the reasons he’s closing Funkenhausen in West Loop.
After five years in West Town, Funkenhausen will close on Saturday, April 1. Steuer says he made the decision last week as his lease on Chicago Avenue is set to expire. Upon reflecting on the struggles of the past few years, it was time to start anew.
The restaurant embodied chaos cooking, combining aspects of German and Southern cuisine presented uniquely from Steuer’s perspective as a German American raised in Charleston, South Carolina. Funkenhausen had momentum when it opened in August 2018. Real estate developers were predicting Chicago Avenue in West Town was the next hot thing, a stretch that could rival Randolph Street in West Loop. This would be the alternative, an area where independent restaurant owners could flourish as they’ve been priced out of the West Loop thanks to rising rents.
“I think it’s more of a two-year setback,” Steuer says. “I love this stretch of Chicago. I think good things will happen here — I would do something here again.”
Steuer says the local chamber showed him numbers showing a large influx of locals had moved out of West Town during the pandemic. That also meant a number of regular customers, ones that Funkenhausen had worked hard to make happy, had left. Brunch was also a big component of the restaurant, a carry-over of the weekend menus Steuer created at the Bedford and its sibling restaurant Carriage House in Wicker Park.
Staffing during the pandemic made brunch a casualty. Steuer says they struggled in recruiting and retaining staff: “The numbers never bounced back,” he says, adding that staffing has been more “brutal” than the dining public could imagine.
Last year, Funkenhausen hired a new bartender and Steuer was determined to rebuild his customer base. But the restaurant couldn’t rediscover the magic. Steuer says he fought back tears earlier this week when telling his staff of the decision to close.
Still, Steuer says he’s proud of Funkenhauen and sees the closing as more indicative of the restaurant business. He also wants customers to know he isn’t done cooking in Chicago. He’s got two upcoming projects he’s waiting to announce in Logan Square. Steuer, who worked at Mindy’s HotChocolate, Rootstock, and El Che Bar, saw the Logan Square assignments as side projects before making the decision to close Funkenhausen. But he’s pivoting.
“It’s not ideal, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions,” Steuer says.