Sep 22, 2023
The weather in Chicago on September 19th was rainy and cool but the day was bright with inspiration and good company for the Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Tour the Trends event. With a strong focus on restaurant and food service operations design, attendees were taken on a front and back of house tour of five amazing culinary locations in Chicago. The hospitality of our hosts at Zoomba Group was exceptional. The tour was expertly organized, efficient, and educational. Here’s a stop-by-stop summary of the tour.
Blue Plate has been in business for 40 years and is a highly efficient and state-of-the-art USDA approved facility that provides catering services for corporate and personal events. Located in Chicago’s popular Fulton Market District, Blue Plate is the vision of Jim Horan, CEO.
Jim gave us a tour of the facility pointing out equipment and process innovations but the emphasis of his organization from a company culture standpoint really stood out. “Hospitality is the best team sport” is how Jim described the symphony of all the people involved that make Blue Plate run so well. Horan played hockey in college and it’s no surprise that experience translates into the business he operates.
Our group met at Larkin Hall which is Blue Plate’s dining room, event space and testing kitchen. Executive Chef Charles Haracz and his team prepared delicious food for us prior to the tour and afterward at the closing reception.
Before we explored the newest Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, we were taken to 167 Events located across the way on the 17th floor of 167 Green St. This space boasts panoramic views of the city with immensely tall floor to ceiling windows. The presentation to the space through the doorway was impressive and I immediately recognized the venue from seeing it on Instagram.
The biggest thing that stood out to me, besides the Napa Valley inspired stunning interior at The Oakville Grill & Cellar was the intricate detail and innovation they focus on in their daily operations. The kitchens are meticulous, and the equipment is top-notch. With the ability to turn over 500 orders in the dining room and manage an event space in another building, the operation would have to be precise and flawless to be successful.
Chicago’s Old Post Office Building is massive and iconic. The From Here On Food Hall occupies a large portion of the ground floor with an enormous food hall that brings neighborhood eateries to the heart of Chicago in a cooperative environment where businesses share food prep and inventory spaces.
We started with the tour of the back of house facilities, event space and concluded with delicious food from some of the vendors in the hall. As a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I wish this concept was around in my day because students can purchase food as a part of their student meal plan with the university!
Located in the Willis Tower (Sears Tower was used in our conversations more than Willis to the native Chicagoans) Kindling’s star is the live-fire show where they expertly prepare meals on a custom wheel driven oven made in Australia. Our host explained the challenges of installing an open fire concept and how the exhaust system had to be perfectly adjusted to pass the inspection with the fire department.
Upon our arrival, we spent some time in the cocktail bar with Julieta Campos – Beverage Director in an area of the restaurant that is colorful and bright with impressive ceiling lighting fixtures and décor. The main bar is elevated above the floor where plumbing runs underneath the bartenders, so not to disturb the ground floor concrete in this historic building.
The restaurant also boasts a beautiful terrace which, according to our host, overlooks the busiest street in Chicago in terms of traffic volume on West Adams Street. There is an additional bar and dining area on the second level with colorful interior textiles and finishes, along with elements from the first floor that carry on throughout the space.
We headed back to the West Loop/Fulton Market for our last stop (on Taco Tuesday, no less!) to visit Bodega Taqueria y Tequila. This spot is on Randolph St., next door to another CDA project - Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. In the front of the space is a repurposed cut away Airstream trailer modified into a taco truck, old-school menu board, and dining area.
The surprise is in the back of the space where a long artfully decorated hallway and inconspicuous door leads you to the speakeasy lounge where the finishes are warm and edgy at the same time. There is a huge emphasis on repurposed materials which make the space seem comfortable and authentic.
CDA Architectural Design Manager, Mark Sangin spoke to our group about the concept development collaboration between Chipman Design Architecture and Bodega regarding their new concept opening in the River North neighborhood of Chicago next month.
At Kindling, Chris Teixeira – Director of Food & Beverage asked our group who had previously worked in a restaurant or the hospitality industry. All 60 people raised their hands, and it was important. We’ve all experienced the same thing in serving the public and working in environments where the design and function of a space was crucial to how it affected the work you performed. I was impressed with the people that run these establishments because of their dedication to the craft, incredible business sense and attention to detail. It’s about the seconds because every second counts.