Matthias Merges, explaining why he closed Yusho Hyde Park, said, "We loved doing it but it just didn’t bring enough to the bottom line for us. We realized we could use our great talent and put them in operations and opportunities that could really benefit our company.” Merges is pictured in 2014 at his A10 restaurant in Hyde Park, which remains open. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
When critically acclaimed chef Matthias Merges closed Yusho Hyde Park earlier this month, after a three-year run, his Folkart Restaurant Management company released a simple explanatory statement, which said the decision, in part, was made “to concentrate our efforts on the Michelin award-winning A10 and our new upcoming projects.”
The new projects include Lucky Dorr, the collaboration craft beer pub which opened in The Park at Wrigley last week; and the upcoming projects are a Randolph Street bar and restaurant partnership planned for late September, as well as the highly anticipated Zachary Hotel project across from Wrigley Field expected by or on Cubs opening day 2018.
But in an exclusive interview, Merges revealed sobering details on the Hyde Park closure (it was one of three Yusho restaurants), and “the state of the state of the restaurant business” as he described it, while sharing his strategy for a sustainable future.
“We as a company are scaling up, looking at larger projects, anticipating what’s happening in the restaurant world today, especially Chicago,” said Merges. “With the lack of finding really solid talent, minimum wage going up, the unknown situation with insurance, we’re really looking at our business.”
“Looking at Yusho Hyde Park, how it was 30 seats, we loved doing it but it just didn’t bring enough to the bottom line for us,” he added. “We realized we could use our great talent and put them in operations and opportunities that could really benefit our company.”
“I love doing the neighborhood places, but the model is very, very difficult these days.”
“You have a number of great restaurants in Chicago on the higher end that can charge the money and have a very special niche,” said Merges, who was Charlie Trotter’s executive chef for 14 years. “Then you have the fast food concepts that have minimal staffing, with a static kind of menu that doesn’t require much labor, and those are doing well and we’re seeing an explosion.”
“But the people who are really suffering, and will continue to suffer, are those mid-range table service restaurants that require some significant talent and execution,” he said. “The idea of a mom and pop operation is really a thing of the past.”
Merges and company are also serving draft cocktails at Wrigley Field during Cubs home games, plus canned cocktails available during concerts and other events at the ballpark, which they plan to sell at additional limited locations soon, then wider in three to five years.
The original Yusho restaurant remains open in Avondale, serving signature Tokyo market inspired food and drink, as does Merges’ Billy Sunday in Logan Square, and Old Irving Brewing in the Irving Park neighborhood.
But the third Yusho, which was in Las Vegas, also closed last month but for different reasons, said Merges. "The Monte Carlo hotel where we were located is reconcepting with a 40,000 square foot Eataly so we’re relocating," he said. Folkart has been asked to look across the street at the MGM hotel for their new location.
Meanwhile at the closed Yusho Hyde Park space, chef Jared Leonard, perhaps best known for his Budlong Hot Chicken restaurants, visited last week, scouting for a second location of his BBQ Supply Co. restaurant. But he wouldn’t serve fried chicken because a Harold’s Chicken Shack Fish & Pizza is across the street in Kimbark Plaza.