Bill Kim is having a pretty good year. After a slightly disappointing 2018 (his flagship restaurant, BellyQ, closed after six years in operation), 2019 brought him a James Beard nomination for his cookbook Korean BBQ. He’s talking about expanding the Urbanbelly/BellyQ brand outside of Chicago. And now he’s teaming up with home goods mega-retailer Crate & Barrel to open the brand’s first ever full-service restaurant, The Table at Crate, in the Oakbrook Center location.
Kim calls the new restaurant a “dream job,” and recalls that this isn’t his only connection to the retailer. “The crazy thing is I actually cooked at [Gordon Segal, the founder of Crate & Barrel] house 15 years ago, so I’m pinching myself to be part of this.” He views the combination of large retailers and food service as “a new frontier for restauranteurs.”
He’s not wrong that this it seems to be a minor Chicagoland trend for restaurant groups to partner with large retailers to launch very visible outlets of their brand. Cornerstone Restaurant Group, the group that Kim is part of that also operates Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, joins a fairly illustrious group in this burgeoning upscale food/retail market. Hogsalt Hospitality (run by Brendan Sodikoff) runs the beautiful 3 Arts Club café inside the gold coast Restoration Hardware flagship, and celeb chef Matthew Kenney opened an outpost of his upscale vegan empire inside of Saks downtown last year.
Especially as Crate & Barrel sells so many food-related products, Kim sees this as a natural partnership. “You have Crate & Barrel where there are cooking items, dishware, furniture, you’re thinking to yourself — it would be great if there was a combination.” Kim plans to use plenty of Crate & Barrel products in the restaurant, though he did admit that the actual kitchen would use commercial food prep equipment, not the darling items that customers drool over on the shelves. But the opportunity for customers to see how available dishes, glassware and other home goods actually look on tables with food on them is pretty fun to imagine.
The menu for The Table at Crate is still in flux, but don’t assume it will be Asian-inspired. Kim’s most recent successes were in that realm, but he emphasizes his other experience. “I spent fifteen years cooking at French and American seasonal restaurants,” says Kim, and he plans to do some new things here. The menu (right on trend) will be plant-focused, and have a “lot of herbaceousness,” and will match up with the way that Kim likes to eat at home. He eats a dairy free diet, and his wife is gluten-free, and while the restaurant won’t be totally in either camp, he plans a ton of that sort of option. “I like to eat that way, light and airy and accessible.”
The restaurant will offer full-service lunch and dinner, a terrace for drinks and nibbles, and a coffee bar and pastry area for grab and go service. Kim is hoping for an opening in July, though there’s no more specific date yet, and it’s easy to imagine the possibilities for things like product collaborations, in-store demos, and tastings. When I asked if Crate & Barrel would be selling his award-winning book in the store, he laughed. “I definitely hope so.”