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Chef Bill Kim has always been on top of food trends. Long before upscale soft serve became a hipster favorite, Kim was serving it in his restaurants.
His places, including UrbanBelly, Belly Q and Belly Shack, featured variations on pork belly, well before the dish popped up on other menus.
And, he incorporated flavors on his menu from his own Korean heritage and his wife’s roots in Puerto Rico.
So, when home design store Crate & Barrel went looking for a big name chef to launch its first restaurant, Kim jumped at the opportunity.
This week, Crate & Barrel opened The Table At Crate, at the Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, Illinois, about 18 miles west of the Chicago Loop.
Crate & Barrel is one of a number of retailers who are adding restaurants to their stores — and using Chicago as a testing ground.
Restoration Hardware has restaurants in six of its North American stores, including Chicago, while Lululemon just opened its first restaurant, Fuel, in its Chicago store.
Meanwhile, the Ralph Lauren store in Chicago is one of four in the U.S. and Europe with upscale restaurants.
Add them to the numerous restaurants in department stores across the country, and around the world, and to Kim, the venture seemed logical.
“When I heard Crate & Barrel wanted to do a restaurant, I was all in,” he says.
Kim already knew, and had cooked for the founders of Crate & Barrel, Gordon and Carole Segal, who opened their first Crate & Barrel store in 1962, when they were 23 years old.
And, he’s been a regular customer — no surprised, since Chicago and its suburbs abound with Crate & Barrel stores, not to mention the rest of the U.S.
“I have, and a lot of my friends have, and at least a lot of people around the country have at least one piece of flatware or furniture at Crate and Barrel,” Kim says.
The chance to open the restaurant came as Kim was looking for his next project. In April, 2018, he published his first cookbook, “Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces.”
But he also has been closing some of the restaurants that made him familiar to Chicago diners. Belly Shack closed in 2016, and Belly Q closed in 2018 (a location of Urban Belly remains open).
Kim says that as he thought about what he next wanted to tackle, he wanted to put serving customers first.
“I’m at a turning point in my career. As you start cooking and go through a (maturation) process, it’s not about cooking for yourself,” Kim says.
He realized that what people were eating had changed since he opened his earlier restaurants. “It’s not as protein heavy as it was 15 years ago. It’s not about meat and potatoes,” Kim says.
Equipped with a coffee bar, and a long table from which it gets its name, the new restaurant offers on all-day dining, a trend that has swept a number of upscale restaurants from New York to Dallas to Phoenix.
There’s lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and a full wine list.
And, the restaurant Crate & Barrel dishware and other items that customers can purchase once they’re finished eating.
Kim said he liked the idea that customers didn’t have to leave the mall to find a decent meal. “Why not have those amenities while you’re shopping? You can stay within the store, and be able to enjoy yourself,” Kim says.
The menu is skewed toward lighter, healthy dishes, with bowls, salads, tartines and main courses.
Many feature produce and meat from nearby purveyors with whom Kim has worked for years, including Three Sisters Garden, Mick Klug Farm and Green Acres Farm.
He’s also sourcing baked goods from Publican Quality Bread, whose head baker, Greg Wade, won a 2019 James Beard Award.
Kim has no idea yet how many customers he’ll serve each day. “I’m hoping we’ll be very busy,” he jokes.
The restaurant seats 90 people, divided between the coffee bar and main dining room with space for 50 people outdoors. There is an upstairs terrace where customers can take drinks and on some evenings, watch movies.
Kim thinks the average check will be between $25 and $30, although that will vary widely depending on the type of food and drink items that customers order. Crate & Barrel has not disclosed the total cost of the investment.
Kim, who trained with the late Charlie Trotter and other big name chefs, says the opportunities in dining have gone up “1,000 percent” since he began his career.
No longer do are chefs confined to traditional restaurants. They can participate in food halls, like those that have sprung up across Chicago and many other cities.
They can cook for corporate clients, or in supermarkets, as well as shopping malls. Another famed Chicago chef, Rick Bayless has cafes in two Macy’s stores, and his food also is available at O’Hare Airport.
“We focus on flavors and hospitality, and being able to serve a generation of people around us,” Kim says. “I’m very excited to be at the forefront” of Crate & Barrel’s push into dining.
July 12, 2019 at 09:32AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs