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Cleetus Friedman Lands at Caffè Baci

He’s leaving the Fountainhead for fast-casual Loop dining.

Cleetus Friedman   Photo: Christina Noel

In last week’s post about the Fountainhead Group’s new executive chef, we gave you the vague “has decided to depart in pursuit of another project” in regard to the group’s rock star executive chef, Cleetus Friedman. Clearly this would not sate Cleetus fans’ hunger. We’re happy to report that there’s official news—and it’s extra-good for Loop workers.

Beginning March 7, the chef and beer-maker—who made his name at gourmet grocer City Provisions before signing on at Fountainhead three years ago—joins quick-service chainlet Caffè Baci as executive chef (for events) and creative chef (for the restaurant’s four Loop locations).

What prompted Friedman to make the somewhat unlikely leap from neighborhood gastropub to Loop lunch spot? For one, an impromptu meeting with Caffè Baci’s proprietor, Joe DiCarlo. “I’ve known the Baci guys for a long time,” says Friedman. “I was in the Loop for an appointment a couple weeks ago and went in for coffee and to say ‘hi.’”

Within days, that meeting led to a job offer and the chance to lead Baci’s revolution by updating the restaurant’s Italian food menus (which have been mostly unchanged for 22 years) and infusing dishes with what Friedman calls “local attitude.” Also on the docket for Caffè Baci 2.0: a new catering kitchen with retail space in the South Loop.

Friedman admits he was ready for a lifestyle change. “I’ve grown up a bit and my priorities have shifted,” he says, mentioning that the desire to spend more time with his 10-year-old twins and increase his work with the nonprofit group Friedman Place (no familial relation) was making the long hours at Fountainhead increasingly taxing. With the new gig, Friedman says, “I can still be creative and have my nights and weekends free. That’s what I have worked for.” He will continue doing beer collaborations with Fountainhead, and he teases the idea of pop-up dinners as side projects in the future.

Until March 3, Friedman continues cheffing at Fountainhead, cooking up the greatest hits from his tenure there as a final farewell. “I have two feet in the door at Fountainhead until I have two feet out the door. Then I’ll have two feet in the door at Baci,” he says.

We have a hunch that there will also be lots more feet in the door at Caffè Baci in the coming months.

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