Chicago's newest restaurant was dreamed up in a text chain between two culinary greats in the throes of a mutual hangover. Blackbird chef Ryan Pfeiffer awoke to a message from New Orleans chef Mason Hereford (Turkey and the Wolf, Molly's Rise and Shine) after the two hosted a pop-up event in Chicago the day before.
"I texted Ryan, 'Hey, when are we going to open a sandwich shop?' I think he wrote back, 'You better not be fucking with me.' And I think I wrote back, 'You better not be fucking with me,'" Hereford says. "That’s when the conversation started, and it didn’t really stop."
That was almost a year ago. In the months since, COVID-19 has ravaged the country's culinary landscape, permanently closing Blackbird and countless other restaurants. Pfeiffer was suddenly out of a job, which only fast-tracked the duo's plan to make their dream a reality. It didn't take long to decide on a name—Big Kids—and find a home for the new restaurant in the former Young American space in Logan Square, located at 2545 N Kedzie Boulevard. The bar is closing permanently to make way for the sandwich shop, though a handful of original staff members will be retained as part of the new team.
"Sometimes when things click, they just click," Pfeiffer says. "There was a mutual feeling there—it’s unexplainable, it’s the universe coming together all at once and letting things happen the way they’re supposed to."
For the unfamiliar, Hereford got his start in fine dining before opening the celebrated Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans, where sandwiches rule the menu. Pfeiffer says that he's admired Hereford from afar for years, knowing that eventually, he too wanted to make the transition from Michelin-starred restaurant to something far more laid-back.
"I’ve always wanted to open a sandwich shop. That was always the goal," Pfeiffer says. "And then this question comes from this mecca that I’ve looked up to for so long and it was serendipitous. It just gave me a glimmer of hope to know that I could do something like this."
Speaking with Hereford and Pfeiffer over the phone is like listening in on a giddy catchup session between platonic soulmates. They riff off of each other effortlessly and share a love of dinosaurs, spaceships, action figures and all things ’90s nostalgia. The name Big Kids is quite fitting and will permeate all facets of the takeout-only concept.
"The reason that we’re into the things we’re into is because we never really grew up the way that we were supposed to—or the way that society would want someone to grow up," Pfeiffer says. "But we know how to survive in society the way that we want to be."
Though the full menu is forthcoming, Pfeiffer promises plenty of original sandwiches, some Turkey and the Wolf remakes and regular "nostalgia-driven" collaborations. Carryout cocktails will send guests time-traveling to simpler days, incorporating flavors from throwback drinks like Tang and Hawaiian punch. It's important to note that this concept isn't a reboot of Young American or an offshoot of Hereford's New Orleans restaurant—both men hope that Big Kids will take on an identity of its own.
When it first opens, Big Kids will be a takeout-only operation, a decision made with public safety in mind. Guests will be able to order ahead and pick up their food at the Logan Square storefront. For now, Pfeiffer won't fuss with redecorating the space that was once Young American—after all, no one will be allowed inside.
"We take COVID very, very seriously—more seriously than we take ourselves," Pfeiffer says. "We’re not going to have any patio space, we’re not going to have any indoor dining until everything is completely clear. We don’t want to put anyone at risk for anything."
Though Pfeiffer and Hereford's dream of working together materialized under unforeseen circumstances, both men agree that the time is right for Big Kids to make its debut in Chicago. "I think that we'll be able to continue to nurture people in a positive way but also be able to reach a wider audience with some fun food," Pfeiffer says.
Stay tuned for more details on Big Kids' big opening in Logan Square.
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