The duo behind Avondale’s popular fried chicken restaurant, which grew out of an underground pop-up dinner series that debuted in 2005, is opening in suburban Glencoe. That second location is a little larger than the original with a private dining room on the second floor, ideal for kids’ birthday parties or showers — or perhaps even the resurrection of the aforementioned Sunday Dinner Club. The two are also poised to give the North Shore an independent delivery option, a market that’s rapidly grown in the suburbs since the pandemic. Looking at DoorDash’s offerings in most American suburbs, one will find a mostly sad state of fast-food chains.
Honey Butter opened in Avondale in 2013 to much fanfare and gained a large fanbase for its skinless and boneless fried chicken breasts and thighs served with honey butter. But Kulp and Cikowski also remain beloved for their activism. They’ve supported Chicago’s status as a Sanctuary City and taken progressive views when it comes to their workers, opting for salaried positions versus relying on customer tips to pay their employees. On Sunday, Cikowski was among a group of chefs throwing a fundraiser for Ethiopian refugees.
Honey Butter has also tried to promote from within. Two years ago, they opened TriBecca’s Sandwich Shop, also in Avondale, which created leadership positions for tenured staffers Becca Grothe and Cam Warron. Cikowski recalls her first day working as a plucky recent culinary school graduate at Blackbird, asking the award-winning chef Paul Kahan for advice. His response, according to Cikowski: “Hire people that are better than you.”
Warron is the team’s culinary director, an unheard-of title in smaller restaurants, and they also have an accountant, Kristin Shabad. HBFC has carved out roles like director of operations (Danielle Lombardo), general manager (Winter Colloton), and hospitality manager (Syrena Sanchez). Kulp says they employ 30 to 35, and that some workers have stuck around for most of the last decade. A second location could be seen as a way to reward them: “This is a way to create opportunity for folks,” he says, while Cikowski adds, “This isn’t the Josh and Christine show.”
There will be a few menu tweaks with lighter salad options (a contrast to popular Midwestern mayo-based affairs that Honey Butter is known for). They’re also working on some sort of non-fried chicken option to complement the salads and to stand alone. Whether that’s grilled or char-broiled is being decided. Kulp says he wants customers to enjoy the new chicken option the same way they’d enjoy their signature fried option. The hope is to find a similar flavor profile so customers can enjoy their meal with a pat of honey butter: “Like Christine says, honey butter goes well with anything,” Kulp says.
The location also has draft beer lines and Kulp says they’ll expand their non-alcoholic beverage selection. The team enjoys a close relationship with Michael Ciapciak, co-owner of Bang Bang Pies & Biscuits and Pretty Cool Ice Cream. They intend to sell more pies and popsicles in Glencoe.
The deal to take over the space came together quickly. The prior tenant, Poppy’s Social, closed in June 2022 after operating for nine months. Cikowski and Kulp say tall ceilings and a patio space remind them of the opening in Avondale. It’s going to take a little time before opening. Restaurants have talked about the impact of staff woes and price inflation. But construction delays have also affected the business. The wait time for a new fryer is about 14 months, whereas under normal conditions it takes about four months. Kulp says they keep a backup fryer in Avondale as a precautionary measure in case one were to break.
Kulp says there’s more demand for unusual and high-quality food options outside the city. Delivery and takeout are big drivers in the decision to expand. He recalls how his first store didn’t really get into the delivery game until around 2015 with Caviar. That segment of the industry has exploded since in the city and, currently, the same process is unfolding in the suburbs, Kulps says.
Honey Butter has dabbled with expansion in and outside of Chicago, and outside the state, Kulp says, declining to specify. They’ve more or less licensed the use of the Honey Butter name at a United Center stall that’s operated by the arena’s concessionaire.
Fried chicken travels exceptionally well and Cikowski and Kulp noted a good number of their customers are from the North Shore. The dish is also a popular picnic item, which should be, yes, music to the ears of concertgoers at the Ravinia Music Festival, which hosts concerts every summer in nearby Highland Park. Cikowski says that customers should count on some sort of picnic basket option being available.
During the pandemic, more chefs sought opportunities in the suburbs through delivery companies and a desire to find new revenue streams as they needed to discover new ways to stay solvent with so much uncertainty due to COVID. However, some city folk, especially the young and childless, will always harbor ill will toward parents living in the suburbs. Does Honey Butter risk tainting its brand with a suburban location?
“I don’t want to believe that’s the world we live in,” Cikowski says. “I want to believe Honey Butter Fried Chicken can exist anywhere.”
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 668 Vernon Avenue in Glencoe, planned for a fall opening.