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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

After Chef Was Laid Off Due To Pandemic, He Turned Knife Sharpening Side Hustle Into A Booming Business

North Side Cutlery's chef owner moved to Chicago last year just two days before the dine-in ban went into effect. He decided to leverage his knife sharpening skills into a new business.

In addition to sharpening knives and other edged tools North Side Cutlery’s owner Kevin Silverman also sells custom knifes made by local blacksmiths.
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NORTH CENTER — Kevin Silverman and his girlfriend, Danielle Burgos, moved to Chicago from Florida last year for a job opportunity with the Boca Restaurant Group.

Two days after they arrived, city and state officials ordered bars and restaurants closed for in-person dining to slow the spread of COVID-19. Silverman’s new job was gone, he said.

Forced to pivot like many professionals, Silverman returned to some of his earliest training as a chef and resurrected his knife sharpening skills. Now, he’s opened North Side Cutlery, 4316 N. Lincoln Ave., bringing his expertise to a brick and mortar location in North Center.

“Opening a business wasn’t what I expected to do but the pandemic made me shift my focus,” Silverman said.

After his job fell through, Silverman delivered for Domino’s Pizza to pay the bills. But the work was boring and he started thinking about what else he could do. 

He first learned the importance of a reliable, sharp knife in the kitchen from watching his mother cook at home. In addition to cooking alongside his mother growing up, Silverman began working in kitchens as a teenager and eventually graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. 

While studying there, Silverman had an internship in Chicago’s Boka Restaurant where he learned how to sharpen knives and became interested in the different metals and processes blacksmiths use to create cutlery.

“I think a sharp knife is overlooked. Dull knives are actually more dangerous because they can slip off the food and you can hurt yourself,” Silverman said. “There’s also some joy, at least I find joy, in a sharp knife that just slices through something.”

He then had the idea to market his knife sharpening skills to neighborhood as Silverman Sharpening via Facebook. 

Neighbors started booking him and soon enough he created a simple website and printed out business cards to spread the word.

With continued growth, he rebranded as North Side Cutlery and opened the shop Nov. 26. He declared himself “chief sharpening officer” and named Burgos as his director of operations in charge of the retail side of the business. 

In addition to standard knife sharpening, Silverman also sharpens scissors and specialty knives. He also repairs knives that have chips in the blade, deformations in their tips or have become become pitted or thickened with use. 

Silverman will also sharpen tools like wood chisels and plans to carry custom knifes made by local blacksmiths exclusively for his shop.

Customers passing by the shop’s front window may also catch Silverman hand sharpening knives using a vintage workbench from the 1940s with a whetstone. 

“I’m selling things that I’ve used over my career as a chef that I feel comfortable endorsing,” Silverman said. “And I plan to have a coffee bar and seating and stuff like that to make it more welcoming.” 

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