Originally slated to open Spring 2011 in Lincoln Square’s Fountainview development adjacent to Giddings Plaza, the Chicago outpost of the successful Vermont-based brand has hit more than its share of snags along the way.
“It’s been a really long, drawn-out process,” Gale says. “I’ve wanted to put a sign in the window with apologies to the community.”
The bottom line: In addition to an overall challenging economic climate, issues at American Flatbread headquarters have delayed the Lincoln Square opening. “I think this will all get sorted out by the end of January,” says Gale. Plans have been approved, a contractor has been chosen, kitchen help has been tapped from Vermont (“there’s still a ton of staff we’d need to hire locally”), and building permits and a liquor license have been obtained (though they are “probably going to lapse”). “We have all of our ducks lined up; we’re ready to pull the trigger,” he says, aiming for a Spring 2012 debut.
“We’re proceeding in good faith,” adds Ben Ranney, building owner and manager of Fountainview LLC. “These things take time; these last few years haven’t been easy for anybody opening a new business. We have a valid lease with a really quality tenant.”
Gale currently is weighing two potential scenarios:
One, he and his partners will move forward as an American Flatbread franchise. Gale, who resides in Evanston, has a long-time relationship with the company, having invested in the Burlington, Vt., Flatbread location, which was developed by his college pal, Rob Downey.
Or, if the Flatbread tie-in falls through, the restaurant will open as “Joe’s Pizza.” (Not literally Joe’s Pizza, Gale clarifies, but you get the idea.) “Unless you’ve been to Vermont, the [American Flatbread] name doesn’t really mean anything here,” says Gale. “We would just rebrand. The concept and whole philosophy would be the same. It’s more about who we are and our passion for food.”
In either case, the restaurant would combine a Flatbread-style menu with a nano-brewery (about three to four tanks of beer brewed on site), obtaining as much food locally as possible, including tapping the Lincoln Square Farmers Market. “To the degree we can source stuff literally from our back yard, we’ll do that,” Gale says. As part of its LEED certification, the Fountainview boasts a green roof, which Gale envisions as the potential home for an herb and/or vegetable garden, a topic that will require a discussion with Ranney.
Another key Flatbread component Gale intends to import: the company’s commitment to the community. This could include charity events for homeless shelters or fundraisers for local schools, making use of Gale’s mobile wood-fired pizza oven. “It’s not just about the restaurant,” he says.
In Burlington, Gale’s partners installed an oven in the midst of an urban garden, which they fire up at harvest time. “We bring the dough,” he says, “and people pull up their vegetables. There are so many cool things like that we could do.”