The news broke last year that home-furnishing retailer Crate & Barrel was planning a restaurant to be run in partnership with the 11-unit Cornerstone Restaurant Group. The concept is scheduled to open next month in Chicago.
Cornerstone is perhaps best known for its Michael Jordan restaurant concepts, including Michael Jordan’s Steak House. But several new projects are on the horizon, including a virtual restaurant concept, the expansion of catering and a move into a Time Out food hall.
Here’s what Cornerstone Restaurant Group president Josh Zadikoff had to say about what’s next for the hospitality group:
We have previously spoken about your upcoming restaurant this summer inside a Crate & Barrel in Oak Brook, Ill., with executive chef Bill Kim (pictured below) creating the menu. What more can you tell us about the collaboration and project?
Chef Bill is aiming to create a unique experience for guests and for shoppers. It differentiates from other retail/restaurant partnerships because it will be immersive for shoppers. Guests dining at the restaurant will be able to experience the products that they could buy in person. The plates, cutlery, chairs and tables are all from Crate & Barrel, and we’ll be able to inspire guests not only with a great meal but also by showing them how they can entertain at home with these products. We’ll have product activations in the restaurant and events.
What will the experience be like for guests?
When we open in July, the idea will be to integrate both [the shopping and dining] experiences. At its core, it’s a wonderful restaurant that we’re excited about, and it fits the identity of who Crate is and who we are. I like the idea of a guest being able to enjoy a glass of wine while shopping and exploring Crate & Barrel products in a way you don’t often get to experience. You can walk around [the restaurant] and say, “We can see this in our house.” We were able to bring that idea to life.
What made you decide to experiment with ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens with your Asian comfort food restaurant Urbanbelly?
With our two original Urbanbelly locations — though right now we just have the Wicker Park location (the second Urbanbelly location in Chicago closed in fall 2018) — we put a concerted effort into delivery and takeout. But it’s a challenge with figuring out how to maximize our delivery potential but still have positive guest experiences.
We have partnered exclusively with Caviar to expand our delivery area with this new [ghost kitchen]. We launched in May and so far it has resulted in 50% of our business coming from carryout and delivery. We want to grow Urbanbelly across Chicago and are looking at areas where the demand would be high. [The ghost kitchen] provides an awesome opportunity for us that makes financial sense to be able to test a new market for Urbanbelly delivery in a unique way. This method affords us a lot more flexibility. We’ll also be expanding catering options and putting more energy and effort into serving our food in offices, at events or at home.
Urbanbelly's noodles with peanuts and shrimp.
Would you expand the virtual kitchen to your other brands?
Yes, absolutely. It depends on the market, but as a successful brand, so many people already recognize us, even if they have not been to one of our restaurants. Our focus is still Chicago.
Urbanbelly just wrapped up its three-month-long popup at Revival Food Hall, and now Chef Bill Kim has been announced as an incoming chef at the new Time Out Market in Chicago. Can you tell me how about your brand’s recent expansion to food halls?
Guest expectations are changing rapidly. We might build a great restaurant, but guests want you to bring the experience to where they are. We are looking to get into food halls that curate a specific type of experience with the right vendors. Our tenure with Revival was an opportunity to both bring the brand awareness to that area and operationally to test a new style of service for us. The flow of business is very different. The popup there ended in April and we are looking to learn and gain from it. The Time Out Market will be opening this fall. We are keeping our eyes open for more permanent food hall spot.
Speaking of expansions, will the Cornerstone brands be expanding to other markets overseas anytime soon?
We will be expanding our Michael Jordan-brand restaurants to Asia. Right now, our focus is on finding the right opportunity. Nothing is set in stone yet, but we are looking at markets in South Korea, China, and Hong Kong. There are no specific opening dates set. We decided on Asia because Michael’s the awareness and appeal of Michael’s brand is huge there. We think we would be really well-received there.
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