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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Bite Cafe Closes For Good Because Of Coronavirus, But Pizza Friendly Pizza Will Replace It

Noah Sandoval, a Michelin-starred Chicago chef, partnered with the Empty Bottle team to design the menu at Pizza Friendly Pizza.

Bite Cafe, 1035 N. Western Ave., will not reopen.
Bite Cafe / Provided
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Bite Cafe, the longtime sister restaurant to the Empty Bottle, will not reopen and will instead be replaced by a pizza restaurant.

Pizza Friendly Pizza, a collaboration between Michelin-starred chef Noah Sandoval and hospitality group 16″ on Center, is scheduled to open later this summer.

Bite Cafe, 1039 N. Western Ave., opened alongside indie music venue Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., in 1992. The restaurant was popular among vegans and underwent a menu transformation last year.

Closing Bite Cafe after nearly 30 years wasn’t an easy decision, said Bruce Finkelman, 16″ on Center managing partner.

The restaurant was not sustainable during the coronavirus pandemic, Finkelman said. Bite Cafe did not pivot to a carryout model during the shutdown.

“It was a tough decision to have to kind of realize that this post-COVID culinary world was not gonna be the same as what was happening before,” Finkelman said. “And acknowledging that and trying to figure out ways to try to survive, it got me to thinking that we could do something else, something that was fun.”

Credit: 16″ on Center / Provided
Bruce Finkelman, managing parter of the 16″ on Center hospitality group.

While he will miss Bite Cafe, Brent Hyel, a talent buyer at Empty Bottle Presents and Thalia Hall, said he was excited about the pizza restaurant.

“Having our own pizza place next door to a rock club makes perfect sense as far as getting food on your way to a show or after,” he said. “I think it’s rad. I think it’ll be fun.”

Sandoval, also of Oriole, Kumiko and Kikko, said his approach to pizza will be to make a pan-style pie with a “pillowy” dough.

As Sandoval does at his other restaurants, he plans to incorporate seasonal ingredients into his pies. A complete menu will be released at a later date, but for now Sandoval promises to have at least one vegan and one vegetarian pizza.

Credit: Cara Sandoval / Provided
Michelin-starred Chicago chef Noah Sandoval.

“We’ll try to use as much local stuff as we can,” Sandoval said. “Design the base menu around year-round local ingredients. … We will do specials or change things for the season.”

Sandoval will be a menu designer and partner at the new restaurant. Bite Cafe head chef Ruben Villalobos will return to run the kitchen at Pizza Friendly Pizza, Finkelman said.

Finkelman and Sandoval said Pizza Friendly Pizza is a “fun” idea to bring to the Ukrainian Village neighborhood. The name is nod to the Empty Bottle sign that reads “Music Friendly Dancing.”

Because Empty Bottle and other music venues are limited in when and how they can reopen, Finkelman said he’s excited to welcome neighbors back with the pizza restaurant.

“That’s all we want to do, is to welcome neighbors back into the space,” he said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

16″ on Center owns several bars, restaurants and music venues throughout Chicago, including Beauty Bar in West Town, Thalia Hall and Dusek’s Board & Beer in Pilsen and Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.

Updates on the restaurant will be posted on Instagram.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage of businesses closing because of coronavirus.

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