News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Porkchop celebrates opening with ribbon cutting

The newest eatery in Hyde Park’s Harper Court celebrated another milestone this morning, when more than a dozen community leaders turned out for the official ribbon cutting for Porkchop, the barbeque restaurant and whiskey bar that opened last month.

Jovanis Bouargoub, the owner of Porkchop and a resident of Hyde Park, was joined by 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns, Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wallace Goode, South East Chicago Commission Executive Director Wendy Walker Williams and others in front of the restaurant at 1516 E. Harper Court.

“Porkchop is the latest example of the abundance of opportunities for business owners in Hyde Park and options for consumers in and around the neighborhood,” said Goode. The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce organized the ribbon cutting.

The new Hyde Park spot is the second Porkchop location for Bouargoub, who also owns the Porkchop on Randolph Street. He plans to enhance the concept for his neighborhood.  

In the coming weeks, the Hyde Park restaurant will introduce regular live music, with a mix of country, rock, and blues bands performing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Randolph Street shop has occasional performances, but live bands would be a regular feature for Porkchop in Hyde Park.

“This will be special to Hyde Park, if it works well,” said Bouargoub, who lives just two blocks from the new restaurant.

The Hyde Park location serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and opens daily at 7 a.m. Closing hours are midnight, Sunday through Wednesday; 1 a.m., Thursday, and 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday.

The menu, of course, includes smoked pork ribs, rib tips, pulled pork and other barbeque dishes, along with Southern comfort foods such as fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and shrimp po boys.

The restaurant celebrated its grand opening in mid-April, and Bouargoub said business has been good. Many Hyde Parkers were already familiar with the concept, since Porkchop began bringing its food truck to the neighborhood well before the restaurant opened. Bouargoub said the food truck will continue to operate in Hyde Park and on the University of Chicago campus.

 

 

 

Hyde Park community leaders at ribbon cutting for Porkchop
Porkchop owner Jovanis Bouargoub

Private drive at Harper Court now one-way

As of this morning, the new street that was created with the redevelopment of Harper Court has changed from two-directional to one-way. The street, called Harper Court, is a private drive that starts at 53rd Street just west of Chipotle Mexican Grill and ends at Harper Avenue just north of the Hyatt Place hotel.

Traffic on the private drive will now flow north from 53rd Street and west to Harper Avenue only. The property manager for the Harper Court office tower, at 5235 South Harper Court, announced the change to retail tenants of the property earlier this week, noting that the decision was made after extensive evaluation of the traffic flow.

The change is expected to improve overall traffic flow for motorists visiting businesses facing the private drive, as well as nearby businesses. New signs at each end of the street reflect the one-way flow.

 

THe Harper Court office tower on the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue

Promontory to preview menu at KAM Isaiah Israel’s April 26 fundraiser

Award-winning chef Jared Wentworth, will prepare the cuisine for KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation’s spring fundraiser on Saturday, April 26—offering attendees a chance to preview fare from the Promontory, a new restaurant, bar and concert venue set to open soon on 53rd Street.

Wentworth, who will helm the kitchen at the Promontory, has won praise for his work at Longman & Eagle, a popular Chicago restaurant whose owners include the Promontory’s partners Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden. The Promontory will be located on the southwest corner of 53rd Street at Lake Park, in the same building as Akira and CorePower Yoga.

Along with sampling the Promontory’s fare, those attending the fundraiser will have a chance to purchase tickets to a raffle that features items from several 53rd Street businesses, including A10 restaurant, Harper Theater, Hyatt Place hotel, Kilwin’s, and LA Fitness. Other Hyde Park businesses will also have items in the raffle.

The fundraiser, themed “It’s Spring and All That Jazz,” will pay tribute to the history of jazz in Hyde Park, with a performance by renowned singer and South Side resident Tammy McCann and a talk by WBEZ radio’s Richard Steele. It will be held at 1100 E. Hyde Park Boulevard in Chicago, beginning with cocktails and a raffle at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner and jazz at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $150 per person and can be purchased on KAM Isaiah Israel’s website.

Hyde Park Native Foods off to a strong start, planning April specials

Since opening at Harper Court two weeks ago, vegan restaurant Native Foods Café has gotten a welcome reception from Hyde Park, with sales about 20 percent stronger than expected, according to one of the restaurant's owners.

“Our first two weeks have been great, which we didn’t expect since (University of Chicago) students are on spring break,” said Andrea McGinty, co-owner of the Chicago-based restaurant chain.

McGinty said the eatery at 1518 E.  Harper Court is seeing a “very high level of takeouts” driven by dinner orders. However, in recent days, more customers have been stopping in for lunch and dining in.

Native Foods’ menu is 100 percent plant-based, includes gluten-free options, and is updated seasonally. Best-selling menu items in Hyde Park so far include the “Rockin’ Morracan Bowl,” “Native Nachos,” and “Native Chicken,” according to McGinty. The restaurant also features “Native Community Days” twice a month, where sales proceeds go to support local non-profit organizations that focus on animal rescue, educating kids about obesity, or community gardens.

“A lot of people were ready for a place like this,” said Jose Perez, a manager at the location. He added that many Hyde Park customers had previously frequented the Native Foods location in the Loop, where he was an assistant manager before the Hyde Park outlet opened on March 11.

The new restaurant is on the first level of the Harper Court complex, just south of the Hyatt Place hotel. Perez notes that the address is on a new street that was created as part of the redevelopment of Harper Court, so some people have had trouble finding it and it does not show up on GPS systems. He advises people who call to use the intersection of 53rd and Lake Park Avenue for navigation.

To draw customers, restaurant employees have been visiting other businesses on 53rd Street and giving away gift cards for $5 to $10. Current gift cards are good through March 31.

Starting in April, the restaurant will have two new offerings that it hopes will bring in even more customers. Customers interested in recreating the restaurant’s meals will be able to purchase a new cookbook called Native Foods Celebration Cookbook at the location. And on April 11, 12 and 13, the store will offer a new special menu item, the Crispy Avocado Crunch Wrap, which features avocado battered in coconut. The dish will be available for only three days and is part of a monthly promotion of special meals.

Native Foods is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

The Crispy Avocado Crunch Wrap will be available April 11, 12, and 13.
Native Foods' cookbook is for sale in stores.

Mobil gas station demolition underway

Demolition of the Mobil gas station and car wash at 1330 E. 53rd Street began this week and is expected to be complete by the end of next week, according to Mesa Development.

Mesa, the developer for the Vue53 rental apartment and retail project set for the site, said impact to surrounding neighbors is expected to be minimal.

“We are excited to see Vue53 progressing, and we look forward to the many benefits the project will bring to the Hyde Park area, including new jobs, market rate and affordable housing, and new retail options,” said James Hanson, a principal for Mesa Development.

Vue53 will include 267 rental apartments, including some affordable housing; up to six ground-floor retailers; and 230 indoor parking spaces, and a variety of amenities for residents of the building.

Crews began demolition of the Mobil gas station and car wash on March 18, 2014.

UChicago seeking a buyer for Harper Court

The University of Chicago has listed the 12-story Harper Court complex for sale and said it plans to lease back all of the office and retail space when it finds a buyer.

Harper Court opened in November 2013, after a multi-year redevelopment project designed to bring new amenities to Hyde Park and create economic opportunities for the surrounding area. The University first announced plans to sell the property shortly after it purchased it from the developer, CJUF III Harper Court LLC, in November.

“This project is the result of many years of planning and input from members of the community about the kinds of retail they wanted to see in the neighborhood, and we are looking for a new owner that will be committed to Harper Court for the long-term,” said James Hennessy, Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate Operations for the University.

Harper Court includes 224,000 square feet of office, retail and parking space. As part of a purchase deal, the University would sign a 20-year master lease for the office and retail portion and would continue to work with its leasing agent to identify retail tenants for the remaining spaces in the building. Harper Court is currently 93.6% leased.

The University exercised an option to purchase the project from the developer for $98 million, with the intention of maintaining goals set for the project through its partnership with the city and local community. Harper Court grew out of community visioning workshops held in 2008 that led the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago to contribute land and other resources to redevelop a former shopping center. The University committed to a 20-year lease of the office tower to help attract developers to bid on the project during the height of the global financial crisis, which made financing large real estate projects nearly impossible. Late last year, UChicago relocated about 550 employees to the building.

To date, the University has invested more than $30 million in Harper Court, including acquiring land for redevelopment and building out the office space. It also provided a $21.5 million loan guarantee for construction of the new Hyatt Place hotel, which is adjacent to the office tower and was part of the phase one construction for Harper Court. The Hyatt Place is owned by Smart Hotels and is not up for sale.

Harper Court is part of a larger effort led by the University to redevelop the 53rd Street commercial corridor. The University has made significant investments to renovate a number of other buildings on 53rd Street since 2011, helping to attract 23 new businesses to Hyde Park.

“From the beginning, Harper Court helped boost interest from prospective tenants and is now providing increased foot traffic to support the surrounding businesses,” Hennessy said. “We’re confident that it will be a good investment for the right buyer and continue to be an important center for the community.”

As current owner of the project, the University pays property taxes that contribute to the 53rd Street TIF district. It will continue to contribute to tax revenues as anchor tenant after the building is sold.

Harper Court is listed for sale with commercial real estate firm CBRE Group.

Renovation of Harper Theater Receives Two Preservation Awards

By Katherine Steward

In 2008, a vacant and rundown Harper Theater Building complex was placed on Landmark Illinois’ watch list for endangered buildings. This month, the complex will receive the second of two recent awards for a renovation project that has brought the historic buildings on the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper back into use.

The Hyde Park Historical Society recently named the University of Chicago as recipient of the 2014 Marian and Leon Despres Preservation Award for its renovation of the Harper Theater Building complex. The award, which recognizes “outstanding achievements in the preservation of Hyde Park's architectural heritage,” will be given at the Historical Society’s annual dinner on February 22. In October 2013, the renovation project received Landmarks Illinois’ prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award in the rehabilitation category, which honors work that allows for continued use of a historic site.

The University purchased the buildings in 2002 and, as part of broader redevelopment efforts on 53rd Street, undertook a major renovation in 2008.

“Early on, we recognized the architectural heritage of the property and the historical significance of the buildings as a gathering place for the community, and we wanted to restore that,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for Commercial Real Estate Operations at the University of Chicago. “We are delighted to receive these awards on behalf of the many individuals and organizations that contributed to re-opening the buildings for community use—from local aldermen and community leaders who supported the effort, to the artisans who completed the renovation work and the tenants who committed to lease space in the buildings.”

Designed by architect Horatio Wilson, the Harper Theater Building opened in 1914. The theater space was a 1,200-seat vaudeville house, which was converted to a movie theater in the 1930s. The movie theater closed in 2002 and the building sat vacant for more than a decade before it was renovated and reopened in January 2013. Renovations on the buildings included restoring the external façade and installing a replica of the theater’s original marquee.

The Harper Theater complex now houses the four-screen Harper Theater, Hyde Park’s only first-run movie theater; A10, an upscale Italian restaurant by chef Matthias Merges; and the Chicago Innovation Exchange, which is under construction and expected to open by the end of the year.

In a press release announcing the statewide Driehaus Award recipients, Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald noted, “This year’s winners of a Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award demonstrate that preservation is not only a tool to rejuvenate a vacant building, but a key revitalization strategy for business, government, and community purposes.”

The Hyde Park Historical Society bestows the Marian and Leon Despres Award in honor of the late Chicago alderman and activist Leon Despres and his wife. Leon Despres was a 1927 graduate of the College at the University of Chicago and a 1929 graduate of the Law School.

 

 

The front exterior of the renovated Harper Theater Building; Photo Credit: Mary Plasman

UChicago welcomes returning students with First Friday event January 10th

The University of Chicago's Campus and Student Life and the College have organized a new event to welcome students back to Hyde Park after the winter break -- First Friday Night on 53rd Street. UChicago students can present their University IDs for lots of freebies, discounts and fun.

The event will run tomorrow evening, January 10, until midnight.

 

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.