CHATHAM — Opening a restaurant during a pandemic is a risky undertaking. Opening two in four months is an impossible task for most. But the Walker Family is in the business of making the impossible happen.
Fresh from the success of their first dine-in restaurant in Burnham, Mark and Shae Walker recently celebrated the grand opening of their second venue, Ooh Wee It Is, 33 E. 83rd St., in Chatham.
Offering soul food “with a twist” and a cereal bar that would make one’s inner 10-year-old giddy with glee, the husband and wife team hope to make Ooh Wee It Is a “can’t miss” destination for locals and out-of-towners alike.
“We haven’t been feeling the effects of the pandemic since opening the restaurant. People love to eat, and they still want to experience some type of feeling as if they went out to dine at a restaurant,” said Mark Walker, who also created Ooh Wee Sweet Tea, a line of specialty teas made with local raw honey instead of sugar.
The Walkers spent most of the pandemic cooking for family and friends, creating a frenzy every time they posted photos of their dishes on social media. Realizing they had something special, the couple opened their first Ooh Wee It Is in November for takeout, and lines have been around the block since.
“We weren’t even looking for a restaurant. It just sort of happened. … One minute we’re looking at equipment, and then we stumbled on the Burnham location, and the young lady who owned it decided she didn’t want it anymore. We were like, ‘we’ll take it,'” recalled Shea Walker, a hairstylist.
Opportunity would knock again when they learned that the space formerly occupied by Mather Cafe was vacant. Both fell in love with the restaurant at first sight, and were determined to honor the legacy of Mather’s, a well-known gathering place for the community.
While they made a few cosmetic changes, they hope to keep the spirit of the old cafe alive with Ooh Wee It Is.
“Mark is a decorator. He loves bringing ideas to life. We wanted a place where people could come in and listen to live music, socialize, and just get good food as a bonus, and this was the perfect place to provide that,” said Shea Walker.
Entreés start at $12.99, with dishes like Smothered Shrimp and Rice and Hennessy-glazed wings. For those in the mood for cereal, the cereal bar offers 75 varieties of the breakfast staple, from popular brands like Frosted Flakes to more obscure brands, like Child’s Play Good Guys Cereal, from the 80’s horror film. Bowls start at $4.
“We want people to come away experiencing great customer service, ambience, and great food with beautiful presentation,” said Mark Walker. “We want them to feel like they’ve been somewhere outside their neighborhood. So often, you have to drive 45 minutes out of the area to go downtown, or the North Side. But here, you’re 15 minutes away from home, or in walking distance.”
Ooh Wee It Is is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m, Sundays, and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
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