For years, Darnell Reed has pondered the future of Luella’s Southern Kitchen, the ode to his grandmother which opened in 2015 in Lincoln Square. Should he expand? Maybe it’s time to leave Chicago? For Reed, the father of two girls, being a family man has helped him make his decision.
“My goal is to spend more time with the family,” Reed says.
His lease is up in October and Reed says he’ll close Luella’s sometime that month. He’s in the process of searching for a new location that will serve brunch daily. He’d rather spend his nights with his family rather than offer dinner service. While some items could be holiday specials at the new restaurant, say goodbye to classics like Luella’s gumbo and cornbread. Shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles should make it over to the new place.
So why can’t he stay in Lincoln Square? Reed doesn’t feel the neighborhood could sustain a full-time brunch restaurant with morning and afternoon hours. He’s considering neighborhoods including Bronzeville, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, and suburban Oak Park. Reed says his staff has known for about a year that a change was coming. When he shared the news with the local chamber, they reacted as if Reed could change his mind over the next 10 months. Might as well give workers ample notice, unlike some restaurant owners who don’t give their employees that luxury.
It’s been a journey since opening. Luella’s would open a second restaurant, one that focused on fried chicken, but it closed in 2020, part of the first wave of shutters during COVID. Reed would also open a stall at Time Out Market Chicago, the food hall in Fulton Market. But as rent and expenses increased, Luella’s would depart. Luella’s has also enjoyed success selling food to Bears fans and others at Soldier Field. Reed is hopeful to expand operations next season in the stadium.
After spending 18 years working for Hilton Hotels, Reed reserves a special place for breakfast and brunch with hotel restaurants needing to serve those meals to hotel guests, especially during holidays. The lifestyle is different. Reed also has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He feels hotel chefs get a bad rap, that they’re not considered as talented as restaurant chefs.
While he’s happy to prove that notion wrong, experience as a restaurant owner has mellowed him.
“It’s going to be a good brunch, and I’m content being with comparisons,” Reed says. “I’m going to give you great food, and if you think somebody else does it better? I think I’m good, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Luella’s 2.0 will be a bit of a departure, but he knows one thing: Grandma’s name will definitely be part of the new space’s name.
In the meantime, fans have a little less than 10 months to visit Reed in Lincoln Square.