On Sunday, September 29, WISHBONE RESTAURANT closed its location at 3300 N. Lincoln Avenue at the end of a 20 year lease.
The hunt for a new location began months before but our wish was to remain fairly close to our base of neighbors and friends . . . and to own a building for a more permanent home.
In mid-March we had started negotiations on an existing restaurant about a mile away but felt we had to hit the pause button as news of COVID-19 grew more ominous. By mid-April it was apparent the location we had chosen would not be suitable in the radically changed environment for restaurant operation. Despite SBA loans and payroll protection money that has been available (not necessarily equitably), many independents will not be able to survive this terrible scourge of public gathering places even though the need for neighborhood eateries may be greater than ever.
We have certainly not thrown in the towel and continue meeting on what a new Wishbone may look like with quirky personality, good food and, of course, safety measures that will protect staff and inspire confidence in our diners. "Social distancing" is only one consideration while larger issues of air circulation/ventilation and minimal touch with sanitized tableware and condiments are commonsense measures restaurants can take without reducing the dining experience to a hazmat impersonal nightmare.
The biggest obstacle, however, is the accuracy of tests to not only track people who are "positive" but those who have developed some antibody immunity. No comment is necessary on the lack of leadership at the Federal level that could certainly have mitigated fears and the continuing economic crisis . . .
Rather than hold our collective breath for a vaccine (when the properties of this virus are still being discovered), the dispersed Wishbone staff is very much in contact and talking of solutions even as we wait a few months more to see how America "re-opens" and what guidelines will be in place and what new treatments for critical cases are developed.
Like everyone, we are champing at the bit to get back to what we're good at and love. Life will continue off-screen and in person . . . and perhaps better models will emerge for how we deal with future crises. Cities, at least, will not become corporate space stations and public laughter will return.
And WISHBONE NORTH will rise again!
We have our mailing list and will send real news when we know it but don't wish to pester our fans with updates or clogged inboxes. If you haven't already, you can sign up for the BIG NEWS on our CONTACT PAGE or leave us any ideas or suggestions you might have.
WE MISS YOU AND HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON . . . SAFE AND SOUND.
Wishbone opened on Lincoln in November 1999 with staff and paintings from its original 1800 W. Grand location. Founded in the Summer of 1990 by chef Joel Nickson, brother Guy and sister-in-law Bianca, Wishbone started with a 35 seat storefront that expanded to 50 with a back room and less than two years later, expanded again to a 200 seat restaurant on the site of a Goodyear Tire shop one block from Harpo Studios.
A third Wishbone opened on Roosevelt in Berwyn a few years later and with addresses for three of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore, it was fitting the restaurant added the family dog, a smiling poodle, to the iconic bluff. (The Wishbone on Washington, however, relocated to Jefferson nearly one year ago—so the cycle vis a visRushmore is now complete)
According to Guy Nickson, the success and longevity of Wishbone owe as much to the accessibility of scratch Southern cooking as to the restaurant’s role in fostering community: from the artists, bikers and tradesmen at Grand Avenue, the politicos, mixed race families and celebrities of Washington to the musicians, Hispanics and widely diverse generations of Lincoln.
“In the course of nearly thirty years, we have raised families, celebrated the passing of loved patrons, shared in the highs and lows of the outer world and always while melding art--starting with our mother’s paintings--with real food and a dash or two of humor.” In noting the many changes that have taken place in the restaurant and food world from longer preservation technologies, engineered meals, Instagramable plates and kiosk ordering, Nickson takes some satisfaction in being retrograde.
“We never quite fit a category. Reviewers compared us to fine dining spots, others thought of us as a quirky chow house because of the diner prices and still others imagined us as a health food restaurant because of all the vegetable side dishes and vegan entrees. The fact is we took a big tent approach to dining—from young to old of every hue and religion and almost all income brackets. Simplicity and tradition guided more than innovation or fads so we took it as a high compliment if someone told us our greens were almostas good as her grandma’s or our Shrimp and Grits better than anything in Charleston.“
Memory and stories are what give a place a connection and while Wishbone is not unique in this, putting on rotating art shows (the last being Marc PoKempner’s photos of personal heroes), free music concerts curated by Michael Greenberg, solstice festivals and progressive political events (from Obama’s State Congress campaign to support for local schools and teachers’ union), Wishbone has always trafficked in the unexpected.
Within the larger trends of people eating at work with cell phones, supermarket prepared food with TV and shrinking middle class spending, Nickson felt it was time to return to a more manageable—and convivial—size. Landlords, Steve Soble and Howard Natinski agreed and found a tenant, Salon Lofts, to share the space. But there was no way to do a sizeable construction without closing restaurant operations.
The space itself had been a Five and Dime when the neighborhood was a bustling shopping district with Wieboldt’s, Woolworth’s and adjacent shoe stores then a Mr. Steer restaurant during the seventies and, just before Wishbone, an incarnation of Blind Faith, the vegetarian eatery from Evanston.
More than place, it is the people that make any enterprise special. The Wishbone on Lincoln has waiters who started as busboys when it first opened its doors (and raised kids and bought houses), a runner, Paulino Solano, who has since become the best chef ever running back of house operations and recently married to Wishbone waitress, Rebecca. Many others have worked 8, 12 and 16 years--an increasingly rare occurrence for all the lip service to sustainability. They will all be gathered on the 29th.
Since notice was made to patrons and neighbors, the “wonderful life” aspect of Wishbone has come in full force with the daily tinkling of angel wings, laughter and . . .tears. Nickson expects the new manifestation of “Southern Reconstruction Cooking” will continue the tradition of community engagement with commonsense good food. Plans are in the works for a Wishbone in Hyde Park by Spring, but more immediately, the northside tribe hopes soon to have a new Launchpad for pan fried chicken, Hoppin’ Jack and catfish that’s jumpin’ . . .
To say “the South shall rise again” is about as retrograde as a MAGA cap, but a NEW South IS coming. Stay tuned for the next turn of the wheel by getting on our EMAIL LIST to find when and where. In the meantime, please visit brother Joel at 161 N. Jefferson.