WEST TOWN — Chefs with backgrounds in fine dining and members of Chicago’s arts community are joining forces to create a fast-casual restaurant in West Town.
Three House, 1450 W. Chicago Ave., will open in March in a storefront that formerly housed Bar Biscay, a seafood restaurant that closed last year due to the pandemic. The inspiration behind Three House is two-fold: first, co-owners wanted to foster a healthier kitchen culture for Chicago chefs; second, they wanted to create a place for creative professionals and artists to collaborate.
For now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the menu will focus on breakfast and lunch items suited for carryout, including cafe con leche French toast, a fried chicken biscuit with chorizo gravy and traditional Parisian baguette sandwiches stuffed with ham and cultured butter.
The lunch menu will include a smash burger, a whole roasted cauliflower and fried chicken with butter chicken sauce. Empanadas will also grace the menu.
Three Houses is co-owned by head chef Tyler Nickson, Sam LeBlanc and Jorge Oliveros — the co-owners of Half Evil, a clothing store 952 N. Damen Ave. — and Christopher Russow, co-owner of Round Two and Round Two Vintage, 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave.
“Our restaurant is going to feature art collaborations with many Chicago-based artists, as well as regular merch drops of our own and many big brand collaborations,” Sam LeBlanc said. ” … We also already have various food collaborations set to take place at Three House, ranging from local chefs who deserve a chance to shine, to food spots from other cities owned by our friends that you wouldn’t get to normally have unless you traveled.”
Once it’s safe to dine indoors, the chefs plan to have tasting menu pop-ups that will be educational experiences for cooks on staff and around the city, Nickson said.
Nickson’s parents opened Wishbone in the West Loop in the late ’90s and worked hard to create a healthy work environment for all, from chefs to servers to dishwashers, he said.
In recent years, hospitality employees across the city have spoken out against chefs and managers, alleging they’ve been abused by Jacob Bickelhaupt of 42 Grams and Stone Flower, Abe Conlon of Fat Rice, Santiago Leon and Kevin McAllister of The Robey and Josh Schatan of Cochon Volant.
After Nickson left the fine dining world, he vowed never to work in an abusive kitchen again.
“I was like, ‘That’s it, I’m not doing that again, I’m not throwing myself in some kitchen culture that I have no say in,'” he said.
Instead, he launched a series of underground cannabis dinners. Now, with Three House, he’s returning to the kitchen to strike a new tone for the industry.
In planning Three House, Nickson hired Tyler LeBlanc as chef de cuisine. LeBlanc (no relation to Sam LeBlanc) most recently worked at Wicker Park’s Schwa, 1466 N. Ashland Ave., where he said chef-owner Michael Carlson created a “fair and ultra hospitable” work environment.
That’s the culture he hopes to foster at Three House.
“He takes care of his employees,” LeBlanc said. “There’s so many people in the city who are heartless. That’s not the next generation, that’s not how the industry is going. You can demand perfection and high quality in a friendly, fun environment.”
While it’s scary to open a restaurant right now, Nickson said he is ready to get back to work. It’s not just chefs who are hurting, he said; small, independent farmers and food distributors need business, too.
West Town was an ideal neighborhood to open in, he added. In addition to being centrally located, Chicago Avenue’s food scene is on the rise: Dave Park, of Jeong, was named Eater’s “Chef of the Year” in 2019 and Porto, from Beatnik’s chef Marcos Campos, was recently named one of Eqsuire’s “Best New Restaurants,” the Tribune reported.
Plus, Nickson said, now neighbors won’t have to walk up to Division Street for a coffee and grab-and-go hot breakfast.
“West town’s a great neighborhood, super residential,” he said. “Chicago Avenue was really important to me. I’m really looking at this Chicago Avenue as the next little Fulton Market.”
Half Evil opened last year in Ukrainian Village. The name “Three House” is a play on the Half Evil name, Nickson said. The clothing store sells $3.33 shirts while Three House will sell $3.33 coffees.
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