CHICAGO — Here’s a scenario recently spotted in River North: You walk into legendary food spot Mr. Beef, 666 N. Orleans St., to pick up a midday Italian beef, and you’re soon followed by six guys rolling suitcases into the joint. They’ve come straight from the airport; they’re in town from Florida for a wedding. But first, they need to get a sandwich from “‘The Bear’ place.”
FX’s award-winning series “The Bear,” which centers around chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) returning to Chicago from a stint in New York City fine dining, prides itself on its accuracy to the nuances of the city’s vibrant restaurant scene.
The second season, which dropped earlier this summer, focuses on Carmy’s efforts to turn the fictional Original Beef of Chicagoland — modeled after, of course, Mr. Beef, where “The Bear” creator/writer/director Christopher Storer worked earlier in his career — into the fine-dining establishment of the show’s title.
“Storer would always come in and see me at Mr. Beef. We were always in touch those 20 some years since high school,” Mr. Beef owner Christopher Zucchero told Block Club Chicago. “And a long time ago, he did say to me, ‘I’m gonna write about this place.’
“Then one day he showed up early 2021 … came in with a crew of guys from L.A. He said, ‘Listen, I have this pilot I have to film here. It needs to be filmed here.'”
In the process of transforming a Mr. Beef-type restaurant into “The Bear” though, Carmy and his staff have to immerse themselves in the food and restaurant culture of the city itself, which means plenty of opportunities to showcase the real restaurants that keep Chicago’s culinary scene humming.
In season two’s “Sundae” episode, chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) goes on an eating tour through the city, hitting popular local spots like Margie’s Candies, 1960 N. Western Ave., and Filipino restaurant Kasama, 1001 N. Winchester Ave. In the “Forks” episode, culinarily illiterate Cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) hones his skills as a stage, or unpaid apprentice, at two-star Michelin restaurant Ever, 1340 W. Fulton St.
The exposure the show has given these restaurants is leading to something of a “Bear effect” on their businesses: greater visibility, higher profiles, and — crucially — more customers.
That’s never been more evident than at Mr. Beef itself, whose clientele is now “80 percent” fans of the show, said Jason, Zucchero’s right-hand man, while tending to pizza puffs in the deep fryer. “We haven’t lost our regulars [per se], but they can’t even get in [sometimes] because the lines are so long.”
We talked to a few of the restaurants featured in the second season of “The Bear” about their experiences filming the season, and whether or not the show’s popularity is translating to their bottom line — or, more importantly, an elevation of Chicago’s food scene in the eyes of the world.
Ever and After
Where Mr. Beef represents the humble beginnings of the show’s characters, Ever represents the pinnacle of what they’re trying to achieve with their haute-cuisine rebrand in season two.
As such, the show spends a lot of time this season at two-star Michelin restaurant Ever and its neighboring lounge, After, 1338 W. Fulton St. The former was relabeled as a three-star Michelin restaurant in the show that one character calls “the greatest restaurant in the world.”
After’s kitchen, meanwhile, was redressed for the show into the Copenhagen bakery in which Marcus (Lionel Boyce) learns the finer workings of pastry from a British chef played by Will Poulter.
But it’s “Forks,” and Richie’s trial-by-fire at Ever, that draws visitors looking for the disciplined, elegant experience the episode teases.
Ever Director of Operations Michael Muser, who opened Ever with acclaimed chef Curtis Duffy, is thrilled with the show’s reception and the effect it’s had on diners. The pair previously ran Grace, one of a select group of restaurants in the United States to be awarded three Michelin stars before it closed in 2017.
“We’ve definitely seen guests talking about it at the tables, pointing out different areas in the restaurant [featured in the episode],” he told Block Club.
The expediting station, where Richie observes the complex codes and concentration required to get food from kitchen to table, is a big destination for guests who want a peek behind the scenes.
More than anything, Ever’s appearance on “The Bear” is, for Muser, a testament to what they’re trying to achieve as a Chicago culinary destination.
“Every day is the pursuit of perfection,” he said. “We try to be the best restaurant we can be.”
Next on the to-do list, Muser said: that third Michelin star.
One of Sydney’s stops in “Sundae” is the takeout window of Logan Square pizza joint Pizza Lobo, 3000 W. Fullerton Ave., chowing down on the restaurant’s signature pepperoni pizza while the Blue Line races behind her.
For general manager Danniel Linn, the “Bear effect” started earlier this summer, when the “Sundae” episode aired and fans added Pizza Lobo as a stop on their self-guided “Bear” restaurant tours, he said.
Using lists like Eater’s roundup of every Chicago restaurant featured in the show as an itinerary, many a “Bear” fan, whether local or tourist, has found themselves at Pizza Lobo and other relevant locales featured on the show.
“We’re super grateful and honored to be a part of those tours,” said Linn, who sees the restaurant’s cameo as a feather in the neighborhood’s cap.
“A lot of people seem to be really prideful of the fact that their neighborhood pizza joint is on the show,” said Hannah Turnbaugh Compton, communications director for Heisler Hospitality, which owns Pizza Lobo.
The titular sundae from this season’s episode three comes courtesy of historic Bucktown ice cream staple Margie’s Candies, owned by George Poulos.
Poulos said Margie’s is so busy in the summer anyway that they haven’t felt a marked increase in business, but their appearance on the show has boosted their profile.
“There’s obviously been more people asking about it,” Poulos said.
Lao Peng You
For Daniel Wat, who with his brother Eric runs West Town Chinese dumpling restaurant Lao Peng You, 2020 W. Chicago Ave., it was a great experience to work with the crew of “The Bear.”
“The [production] team was respectful of our space and patient with us as we negotiated details of each day’s filming,” he said.
While Wat said he’s thrilled that new audiences have discovered Lao Peng You because of the show, he credits the neighborhood regulars who make their restaurant successful regardless of “The Bear.”
“Without the support of our West Town and Ukrainian Village neighbors and the city of Chicago, we wouldn’t be open, let alone on TV,” Wat said.
One restaurant Sydney experiences is fictional — Verdana French Bistro, which closes late in the season — but “The Bear” used real Logan Square restaurant Giant, 3209 W. Armitage Ave., for filming those scenes.
“We’ve seen a lot of excitement about our involvement on social media, and a lot of our regulars noticed the space right away,” said chef Jason Vincent. “I’ve seen more of our regulars coming in with a sense of pride that they [could] recognize the place from such a small amount of screen time,” from the specially designed Monsoon Pottery plate to the restaurant’s banquette.
“We’ve been big fans of ‘The Bear’ since its first season and think it does a great job of showing a true depiction of the restaurant industry,” said Vincent.
In fact, the show’s reach has inspired Vincent to build an Italian Beef pizza for the menu of his next-door pizzeria Pizza Matta, 3211 W. Armitage Ave.
Publican and Avec
For One Off Hospitality co-founder Donnie Madia, who owns the respected and well-loved Publican, 837 W. Fulton Market, and Avec, 615 W. Randolph St., (both of which — like Madia himself — make appearances on “The Bear”), the show was a fantastic opportunity to highlight Chicago’s culinary scene, as well as train the cast and crew on how to work in a professional kitchen.
“Any messaging that can come from me, I don’t want to equate to dollars,” Madia said. “I want to equate it to a larger level of excellence for what this restaurant community is about, and how we care for one another.”
For Madia, the show’s focus on the Chicago food scene is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
“Instead of being sharp-elbowed competitors, there’s enough for everyone,” he said.
It’s a sentiment that runs all the way from Michelin-star restaurants like Avec and Ever down to the no-frills pleasures of Mr. Beef, as Zucchero, show creator Storer’s childhood friend, is quick to point out.
“Every beef joint [in Chicago], whether it’s me, whether it’s Portillo’s, Al’s, Johnny’s, they owe that kid the world, man,” Zucchero said.
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