If, in the not-so-distant future, you visit Buck’s (1700 W. Division St.) or the Bedford (1612 W. Division St.) and notice a fresh zing in your gin and tonic, you have Matthias Merges to thank. The restaurateur—executive chef of Yusho, Billy Sunday, and A10—acquired the two Wicker Park eateries over the summer and has been slowly bringing them under the Folkart Restaurant Management banner ever since. The changes are ongoing, but Merges expects the (ahem) merger to be complete by Thanksgiving.
So what’s changing? The concepts and names will remain the same for Buck’s and the Bedford, but behind the façade, Merges is orchestrating a full overhaul. In addition to updating the back of house and payroll systems, Merges plans to bring on a second chef for one of the two restaurants—executive chef Mike Galen manages both kitchens.
Merges plans to put in some new infrastructure in the form of draft cocktail lines. By drafting drinks, he says, “We can keep the time from order to delivery down to 10 minutes, which allows us to spend more time with the guests. That’s what hospitality is, right?"
Expect subtle refinements to both menus. Specifically, he’s got big plans for the good-enough-for-Beyoncé fried chicken at Buck’s. If it ain’t broke, one might argue, don’t fix it—but Merges’ main tweak is using a fancy piece of tech called a “vacuum tumbler” to marinate the birds. This snazzy device puts the brine and spices in a literal vacuum with the chicken, allowing more thorough penetration of flavor. The gin and tonics also get an update, with Merges’ house-made, traditional tonic mingling with gin in a carbonated keg.
Rachel Crowl (Merges’ wife and owner of design firm FC Studio) is giving both spaces a fresh look. “We want to create spaces where people feel excited,” says Merges. “Material and lighting can go a long way toward changing the vibe. Restaurants are always evolving—people expect you to provide an experience with a personal touch."