NORTH CENTER — The owner of Monti’s Cheesesteaks plans to return to its Lincoln Square home later this year, months after a fire forced the business to close indefinitely.
Owner David Weissner said he and his team met with an architect this week to begin the process of rebuilding the space at 4757 N. Talman Ave. and aiming to relaunch in several months.
“Depending on who you ask, it’ll either take three months or nine months to complete. Probably the right answer is somewhere in the middle,” he said.
The beloved restaurant first opened in 2012 and it’s been a Lincoln Square favorite thanks to its selection of Philly cheesesteaks, craft beers from breweries like Half Acre and Metropolitan Brewing and sense of community.
An electrical fire caused by old wiring in September forced the restaurant at 4757 N. Talman Ave. to close. No one was injured but the restaurant couldn’t operate out of the space until the damage was addressed, said David Weissner, Monti’s owner.
A month later, Weissner checked out 20 new locations with his kitchen manager before he decided to move into the ghost kitchen at 4131 N. Rockwell St. in North Center. He started taking orders for delivery and pickup on Oct. 28.
“With COVID restrictions this is actually kind of an ideal situation right now. We’re in the kitchen and we don’t even have interaction with the delivery drivers,” Weissner said. “All that food goes out through a window to help keep everyone at arm’s length.”
Monti’s temporary location is located down the block from Burning Bush Brewery in a small commercial corridor just north of Irving Park Road. The ghost kitchen is also home to small restaurants like Mac Dynamite and corporate fast food chains like Chick-fil-A.
Weissner said fans of Monti’s have been so supportive and continued to place orders since the transition to the North Center ghost kitchen. That patronage has made rebuilding possible, he said.
“We’re a neighborhood spot where everybody knows your name,” said Katy McLaren, Monti’s front of the house manager. “You need the food, the ambience and the service. And people got that at Monti’s before the pandemic.”
McLaren has 20 years experience in the hospitality industry and is shocked at the number of restaurant closures since March. She credits Monti’s staff and Weissner with being quick to adapt to the industry’s changing landscape due to coronavirus.
“I’ve never been in a pandemic before. None of us have. But we’re taking it day by day,” McLaren said. “I think it’s going to take the restaurant industry 15 years to recover from this pandemic. People thought the 2008 crash was bad, this is so much worse. But we’re all hustling to make it work.”
Some of the renovations Weissner has in mind for the Lincoln Square space are informed by the city’s COVID-19 rules for dining. For instance, before the fire Monti’s had fixed pane windows but after the renovations the restaurant will have windows that open to help with ventilation.
“Even once all the vaccine is done being distributed we’re going to make sure we have the safest environment possible when we reopen,” Weissner said.
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