Working at a ghost kitchen has haunted Henry Cai, the chef and owner behind 3 Little Pigs.
It’s been a game of musical kitchens for the Chinese-American restaurant that launched during the pandemic, building a loyal fanbase with creative sandwiches like a salt and pepper fried chicken sandwich, Cantonese-style barbecue pork, and stellar fried rice with three different types of pork.
Cai, a South Side native, has bounced around town as he works toward opening a standalone restaurant. He’s gone from a kitchen in Humboldt Park to a facility on the Near North Side, near River North and Old Town.
The facility, Kitchen United Mix at 831 N. Sedgwick is due to close in August, and that forces him to find yet another home. This week, he temporarily closed 3 Little Pigs. He’ll take June and July to get his bearings before reopening in August at yet another ghost kitchen — this time in the South Loop, sharing space with Molly’s Cupcakes at 1150 S. Wabash Avenue. Fans on the North Side shouldn’t worry; he’ll still serve much of the old delivery zone. The closure of the Kitchen United Mix, which houses chains like Portillo’s and Panera, may suggest customers who relied on takeout during the pandemic are changing their eating habits again.
It’s a bit frustrating for Cai, who’s looking to bring more consistency to his food. Moving from venue to venue and needing to hire new workers each time doesn’t help. But he’s still optimistic. Three Little Pigs recently started serving burgers. Cai’s a nonstop fountain of ideas, thinking up ways to share Chinese cooking techniques or ingredients with Chicagoans. He’s been meeting with Bill Jacobs of Piece Pizza in Wicker Park to work on a collaboration pie with the New Haven pizza specialists.
Cai still dreams of a permanent home for 3 Little Pigs. He wants a spot in Wicker Park with cocktails. He’s been teasing customers for the last two years, but he’s in no rush; he wants the space to be perfect.
After 11 years, MAK shutters in Wicker Park
In early May, a fire forced MAK — Modern Asian Kitchen — to close near Division and Damen in Wicker Park. The tiny restaurant serves some great Korean-style wings and a vibrant array of Chinese options that could be tailored to many different tastes and diets. However, a May fire forced owner Jeff Wang to close. Now comes news that MAK won’t reopen. Wang shared the news via Facebook: “I struggled with the decision because it felt like failure,” Wang writes. “However, this has not been a failure. Not in the slightest bit.”
MAK not only managed to survive the pandemic but also navigated the changes to Wicker Park over the restaurant’s 11 years. There are signs in the window at 1924 W. Division Street for a new tenant. Phodega, which takes a similar American irreverant attitude toward Vietnamese food, is poised to take over the spot. Ownership didn’t immediately return a request for comment, so it’s unclear if this restaurant will replace Phodega’s original location at Ashland and North avenues. The restaurant specializes in pho but also has a dynamite French dip style banh mi, fried chicken, and snacks from Asian markets (hello, honey butter potato chips).
Longman & Eagle gets a remodel
Finally, Longman & Eagle, the former Michelin-starred restaurant in Logan Square, has closed this week for a remodel. According to the venue's website, the restaurant, 2657 N. Kedzie Avenue, is slated to reopen Saturday, June 9. Work, including upgrading the ventilation system, was planned.