News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Matthias Merges

Yusho Hyde Park Closing

After nearly three years on 53rd Street, Yusho Hyde Park served its last meal on Saturday, July 1.

Award-winning chef and restaurateur Matthias Merges, who also owns A10 at 1462 E. 53rd Street, is closing the location to focus on the Michelin-rated A10 as well as new ventures. Merges’ Hyde Park restaurants were among the first to open as part of the redevelopment of 53rd Street, an effort led by the University of Chicago in partnership with the city, local community and private entities.

Merges opened the Hyde Park location of his yakitori-inspired concept in September 2014.

“Matthias Merges has been a great partner in helping to make 53rd Street a destination for dining, and we wish him continued success,” said James Hennessy, the University’s associate vice president for commercial real estate operations. “The University is seeking a new restaurant tenant for the space at 1301 E. 53rd Street, and we hope to bring a new concept to the neighborhood later this year.”

“After a great run in a neighborhood we love, we are closing Yusho Hyde Park to concentrate our efforts on the Michelin award-winning A10 and our new upcoming projects,” said Chef and Proprietor Matthias Merges. “We are grateful for the opportunity Yusho provided in the vibrant and historic community of Hyde Park and we will continue to provide great hospitality and cuisine to all of our A10 neighbors.”

Faces of 53rd Street: Matthias Merges

By Calmetta Coleman and Lilian Huang

After opening two new restaurants in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Matthias Merges faced a common restaurant industry challenge: securing and keeping high-quality employees.

The award-winning chef could have recruited workers from anywhere in the city for his French-Italian eatery A10 and Japanese-inspired Yusho, including from the original Yusho in the Avondale neighborhood. Instead, he instituted a policy that 70 percent of A10 and Yusho employees must live within walking distance of their workplace or have easy access by bus. While keeping a restaurant employee for 18 months is considered good in the industry, both A10 and Yusho, which opened in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have staff who have been with them since the beginning. Together, the restaurants employ 60 people.

“We could have brought employees from the North Side, but that doesn’t do any good for us or the community,” says Merges, who lives on the North Side. “We’re invested in the community.”

Indeed, while still running three other popular restaurants elsewhere in Chicago and Las Vegas, Merges spends about one-third of his time in Hyde Park and sits on the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. Locals might spot him, sporting his signature beard, at museums and other cultural venues in the neighborhood—or even at other restaurants on 53rd Street.

A few months ago, Merges recalls, a customer came into A10, looked over the menu, and made it known that he did not want any of the dishes listed. What he really wanted, he said, was fried fish. Wired to please his customers, Merges headed across the street to Indian restaurant Rajun Cajun and borrowed a raw red snapper. He fried it up and served it with roasted potatoes and tartar sauce. After the meal, the customer told Merges, “That’s the best piece of fish I’ve ever had.”

One of Merges’ favorite things about 53rd Street is the community of restaurants and how they interact with and support one another. There is, naturally, a good deal of overlap between customers of A10, at 1462 E. 53rd Street, and Yusho, at 1301 E. 53rd, with some patrons frequently dining at both in the same day. The restaurants also welcome referrals from the likes of Rajun Cajun and Pizza Capri and return the favor by recommending neighboring restaurants for their customers who decide to go elsewhere. “The more community you create, the more successful everyone is going to be,” Merges says.

Merges’ definition of success goes beyond the profitability of his restaurants. He also has a mission of serving the community through his work. He partners with the Cook County Jail’s nonviolent felon release program to operate a vegetable garden where inmates cultivate and tend produce for Chicago restaurants. Merges and his employees help the inmates to develop these valuable skills and provide them with information on what it is like working in a restaurant. A number of inmates from the program have gone on to work at Merges’ restaurants. Merges describes his approach to this work in simple terms, “You search for people who never had the opportunity to do good, and give them an opportunity, and they do good.”

The 49-year-old is also one of the founders of Pilot Light, a nonprofit that partners with Chicago schools to educate children about food and nutrition and equip them to make healthy lifestyle choices. Its free curriculum is currently implemented in six schools, including Ray Elementary in Hyde Park and Anna R. Langford Community Academy in Englewood.

Even with five restaurants and nonprofit work on his plate, Merges still makes time for hobbies. He enjoys activities like camping, running, climbing and, of course, spending time with his family. His wife, a Chicago architect, had a hand in designing both of his Hyde Park restaurants, and at home, he teaches his three daughters how to cook. Merges also does photography, including promotional photography for his restaurants.

He is excited about the potential for his 53rd Street restaurants and for the neighborhood in general. “There has been an emergence of 53rd Street that has been great, but has not hit its peak,” he says.

At A10 and Yusho, he continually looks for ways to keep the offerings fresh. Both restaurants frequently offer unique menus for holidays and other special occasions, such as A10’s Sunday brunch menu and its “Tour the Garden” dinner series this past summer, which showcased a different item of produce from the Hyde Park farmer’s market every Wednesday. He also recently hired a new chef for A10.

“Creating a culture is very important for us, and it takes time to do that,” he notes. “We’ve made great strides, but I can’t wait to see the five-year mark!”

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Faces of 53rd Street is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy of Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail corridor. If you would like to recommend a familiar face on 53rd Street for a profile, write to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

Yusho Hyde Park now open for lunch; new Sunday Noodles menu

The groundhog may have predicted six more weeks of winter, but Yusho Hyde Park, at 1301 E. 53rd Street, gives the neighborhood a new reason to celebrate.

Due to popular demand, Yusho Hyde Park will now be open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., with GrubHub delivery available during these times as well.

Chef and owner Matthias Merges said, “So many of our customers have requested that we offer lunch service, and we’re very happy to make that happen now. Yusho Hyde Park is the perfect place for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon snack.”

Additionally, as of Feb. 1, Yusho Hyde Park is offering a special Sunday Noodles menu from 12-8 p.m. every Sunday. Diners can select a bowl of noodles from four different choices (Logan Poser Ramen, Veggie Ramen, BBQ Chicken Ramen, and Mentaiko Carbonara), a draft cocktail, and soft serve dessert for $20 per person. Additional menu items are available to order.

Celebrate Chicago Restaurant Week in Hyde Park

Sponsored by the Choose Chicago tourism organization, the 8th Annual Chicago Restaurant Week takes place from Jan. 30 – Feb. 12, 2015. Diners will enjoy multi-course specialty prix fixe menus at more than 250 Chicago restaurants, priced at $22 for lunch and $33 and/or $44 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax, and gratuity).

This year, two of the participating restaurants are from Hyde Park – Matthias Merges’ A10, located at 1466 E. 53rd Street and Jovanis Bouargoub’s Porkchop, located at 1516 E. Harper Court. Both restaurateurs were recently profiled in the Chicago Tribune for their contributions to the burgeoning dining scene on the South Side. A10 was also listed as one of dining critic Phil Vettel’s top picks for Restaurant Week.

A10 will be offering a $44 three-course dinner menu. Porkchop will be offering a $22 two-course lunch menu and a $33 three-course dinner menu. For reservations, diners can contact A10 at 773-288-1010 and Porkchop at 773-493-9333.

A10’s Matthias Merges recognized for community work

Award-winning chef Matthias Merges, owner of 53rd Street’s A10 and Yusho restaurants, was recently recognized in Food & Wine magazine for his decade-long involvement with the Cook County Jail “to operate an inmate-run vegetable garden that supplies produce to local homeless shelters, nonprofits and fine-dining restaurants in the Chicago area.”

As part of the Cook County Sheriff’s Pre-Release Center program, which assists inmates in creating productive lives for themselves after prison as well as dealing with substance abuse issues, the garden is “a way for us to give back to the community,” Merges said. Inmates can become certified Master Gardeners, and Merges has even hired several graduates of the program to work in his restaurants.

Read the full article in Food & Wine.

A10 Receives Michelin Guide Honor

By Lilian Huang

53rd Street is now home to a Michelin Guide-award-winning restaurant: A10.

Chef Matthias Merges' venture into Italian and French cuisine has received multiple positive reviews since opening in November 2013. Now the Michelin Guide, which annually publishes a popular listing of restaurant recommendations for travelers, has named A10 one of its Bib Gourmand recipients for 2015.

The Bib Gourmand is awarded to restaurants that offer exceptional value, or, in the words of the Michelin Guide, “restaurants that serve two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less” while maintaining high quality.

A10, located at 1462 E. 53rd St., is one of 59 Chicago restaurants included on the 2015 Bib Gourmand list. It is also only the second restaurant in Hyde Park to be recognized by Michelin. French restaurant La Petite Folie, at 1504 E. 55th Street, has also been recommended by the guide.

Yusho Hyde Park Opens Its Doors for Dinner Sept. 13

By Rachel Wasielewski

After months of planning, award-winning chef Matthias Merges will open his second restaurant in Hyde Park tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 13. Yusho, a yakitori-inspired concept located at 1301 E. 53rd Street, will be open for dinner from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Merges, who also owns A10 at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue, said yakitori is a Japanese street style in which every piece of the chicken is grilled through simple cooking techniques. The original Yusho opened in the Avondole neighborhood three years ago and has become a popular dining spot.

“Kids come in and enjoy the chicken skin. Foodies love the grilled octopus with egg yolk vinaigrette,” said Merges. “We have a wide breadth and scope of flavors and techniques, so there’s something for everyone.

The Yusho concept was inspired by Merges’ travels to Japan and other parts of Asia. The word “yusho” has two meanings, the older of which was used to describe serving great wine to friends. The modern definition is used in Sumo and means first rank. Both elements are reflected in the Yusho dining experience.

Dinner prices range from $5.50 for the Chicken Skin to $17.00 for Kakuni Pork Belly. Sweets range from $6.00 to $10.00. The bar offers a variety of alcohol—whiskey, sake, wine and more. The cocktail on draft will be the Calamansi Daquiri, made from El Dorado rum and an exotic citrus fruit from the Philippines that adds floral notes such as orange blossoms, dried citrus zest, and yuzu fruit.

Merges said he and his team had been looking at Hyde Park for years and that his first restaurant in the neighborhood, A10, has received a great reception and that many people have reached out in anticipation for Yusho since he first announced plans to open it two years ago. He plans to add lunch at the new restaurant sometime in the future.

In addition to the Avondale location, Merges also operates Yusho in Las Vegas. He notes that customers can expect to see variations and individualization among the three spots.

Reservations for Yusho Hyde Park are not necessary. The restaurant serves customers on a first come, first served basis.

 

Yusho Hyde Park is moving forward

Chef Matthias Merges, owner of the new Hyde Park restaurant A10, said he is moving forward with plans to open a second restaurant in the neighborhood, the Japanese-inspired Yusho Hyde Park, at 1301 E. 53rd Street.

Merges anticipates a summer 2014 opening for Yusho and said future customers can expect “great hospitality and great cuisine” at the restaurant, a Hyde Park version of his successful Yusho concept in the Avondale neighborhood.

A recent court ruling cleared the way for Yusho Hyde Park to serve alcohol at 1301 E. 53rd Street, which had previously been part of a dry precinct. Last month, a lawsuit challenging a petition signed by local residents to un-dry the precinct was dismissed with prejudice, and the Circuit Court of Cook County deemed the petition valid.

"I’m here for the long haul. I believe in Hyde Park and what it has to offer,” Merges said. The chef added that construction of the restaurant needs to be completed and that he has to obtain a permit and a liquor license from the city of Chicago.

James Hennessy, Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate at the University of Chicago, said the University is pleased to be able to bring Yusho Hyde Park to the neighborhood.

“The success of A10 so far, as well as local support of plans for Yusho, shows that the community has an appetite for new dining options, and we look forward to seeing Yusho open soon,” Hennessy said. “Having a second restaurant by Matthias Merges, an award-winning chef, will further complement everything 53rd Street and the Hyde Park neighborhood have to offer.

Merges opened A10 in November at 1462 E. 53rd Street—next door to the Harper Theater, which opened in early 2013, and across the street from the Hyatt Place hotel, which opened in September 2013. A10 is open for lunch and dinner.

Matthias Merges' A10 restaurant open today

A new fine dining experience has come to 53rd Street. A10, acclaimed chef Matthias Merges' newest restaurant featuring European cuisine, officially opened for business today at 1462 E. 53rd Street.

The opening of the restaurant is part of a larger, ongoing effort to redevelop the 53rd Street commercial corridor and bring more amenities to Hyde Park. A10 is located just south of Harper Theater and across the street from the recently opened Hyatt Place hotel. The restaurant will be open Tuesdays through Sundays.

Read more about the restaurant and see pictures of the inside in this post from the Eater blog: http://chicago.eater.com/archives/2013/11/04/gaze-inside-a10-opening-tom...

 

Revitalized 53rd Street energizes community

The University of Chicago says redevelopment efforts “are making 53rd Street a more lively retail district” and that residents and businesses are benefitting from Hyde Park’s growth as a destination for dining, shopping and fun. Laura Milani Alessio writes:

The redevelopment of Harper Theater and nearby storefronts is part of the University of Chicago’s effort to partner with local businesses, residents, and elected officials to spur economic development along 53rd Street, a vital commercial corridor for Hyde Park. Chicago businesses increasingly see 53rd Street as a prime opportunity for growth, creating a sense of momentum that is drawing new ventures and customers to the area. The developments are creating new entertainment, dining, and retail options for the entire community—along with an estimated 1,320 new jobs—while building on the neighborhood’s appeal for UChicago students and faculty.

Read the full story and view new photos of 53rd Street here.

Friends Bryant Mclemore-Smith (left) and Makali Robinson (holding his daughter Nila) chat with Robinson's mother-in-law Patricia Jordan at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue in Hyde Park. (Photo by Rob Kozloff)

KAM congregation extends spring gala to 53rd Street

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy a “night on the town” in Hyde Park, you could certainly find it next Saturday, April 27. It is set to be an evening to look back on history and look forward to things to come. 

New and upcoming offerings on 53rd Street will be on display as Harper Theater holds a private showing of 42, the new film detailing Jackie Robinson’s story as the integrator of American baseball, and chef Matthias Merges (of Charlie Trotter’s fame) previews the fare of his new bistro restaurant coming to Hyde Park. Merges is set to open the yet-to-be-named restaurant, along with Yusho Hyde Park, as part of redevelopment on 53rd Street.

Adding to the excitement, Jonathan Eig, the New York Times best-selling author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, will discuss baseball in the early 20th century.

The evening’s line-up has been put together as part of KAM Isaiah Israel’s Spring Gala fundraiser. KAM is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Midwest and a longtime presence in Hyde Park. Tickets start at $125 per person and the event starts at 6 p.m. For more information visit the event’s website here.

Now Playing at Harper Theater: 53rd Street

The Harper Theater recently added a new trailer to its lineup of preview clips: a promo inviting moviegoers to explore 53rd Street.

The 77-second video highlights retail, dining, and entertainment options—including newcomers such as Akira, Clarke’s and Kilwins, as well as longtime 53rd Street businesses such as Mellow Yellow, Chant, and Freehling Pots and Pans. The clip also previews CorePower Yoga, Hyatt Place hotel, and new restaurants by award-winning chef Matthias Merges, which are expected to open later this year.

"Chef of the Year" shares plans for 53rd Street

Chicago restaurateur Matthias Merges, who plans to open two new restaurants in Hyde Park this year, was recently named Chef of the Year at the 2013 Jean Banchet Awards—a high honor in the restaurant industry. Merges, who owns the popular Logan Square eatery Yusho, also told the Eater blog that one of his new spots will be called Yusho Hyde Park and that the other would feature cuisines from Northern Italy, Southern France and the Alps. That restaurant has not yet been named.

Read more about Merges award and his plans for 53rd Street on the Eater blog.

In the news: Talk about the future of dining in Hyde Park

Earlier this week at his October ward meeting, 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns introduced the audience to Chicago restaurateur Matthias Merges, who announced plans to open two new restaurants in Hyde Park in 2013. Merges also recently talked to dining blog Eater Chicago about what the new restaurants might look like. Read the Eater Chicago article here.