By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Chef Matthias Merges said he expects the Hyde Park location of his Avondale Japanese restaurant Yusho to open this summer, following legal wrangling over the sale of alcohol in the area.
On Dec. 17, a lawsuit originally filed in August challenging a University of Chicago-backed petition calling for the sale of alcohol in the area was dismissed. The lawsuit, filed by Tom Panelas, a Hyde Parker who lives near the restaurant’s planned location at 1301 E. 53rd St., alleged that the signatures on the July 15 petition were insufficient in number and in several cases invalid.
“It’s official,” read a Dec. 18 Facebook post by A10 Hyde Park, Merges’ first restaurant in the neighborhood. “Baby Yusho @yushochicago is coming to Hyde Park! We can’t wait! Midday steam buns are just a few months away … thank goodness!”
Merges applied for a liquor license at the site more than half a year ago. A petition circulated by the university that would legalize the sale of alcohol in area of the Fourth Ward’s 31st Precinct – redistricted to become part of its 1st Precinct – was filed Feb. 22 of last year. It was denied because it didn’t accurately outline the impacted area.
The latest petition, filed July 15, included 52 signatures – one fewer than the 66 and two-thirds percent of precinct voters required by law, according to the lawsuit.
The 31st precinct was voted dry in 1990. It included the commercial strip at the southwest corner of the intersection of 53rd Street and Kimbark Avenue, where Yusho will be located. The area is is no longer dry, according to the 4th Ward office.
Robin Kaufman, a resident of the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue who says she helped to draft Panelas’ lawsuit, was skeptical of Merges’ December announcement. “It’s not official” Kaufman said. “They don’t have a liquor license yet.”
Kaufman said she did not take issue with Merges’ restaurant, but rather the university’s tactics. “This change was done with sleazy, heavy-handed tactics on the part of the university,” Kaufman said, adding that Ald. Will Burns (4th) “is the one that should have been willing to listen to the neighbors.”
“Why is the university so set on this particular location, when they have so many other properties available that would be more suitable and would not have required such an extreme effort on their part?”
Although Panelas’ lawsuit concerned an area including commercial retail space in addition to Yusho, Calmetta Coleman, director of communications for the Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago, called it “very small.”
“Having a second restaurant by Matthias Merges, an award-winning chef, will further complement everything 53rd Street and the Hyde Park neighborhood have to offer,” said U. of C. Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate Jim Hennessy in a statement this week.
The university sought Merges’ presence on 53rd Street to expand the number of commercial options on the street, according to a fall interview with Coleman.
“I think that as a small business owner I respect their position and their forthright attempt to keep everything transparent in Hyde Park with development and real estate and within their own community,” said Merges, adding, “we’d like to help and be part of the economic development of Hyde Park.”
Yusho, which will be located at the site of the now-closed Third World Cafe, currently sits shrouded by tall wooden panels and bears a sign advertising that the restaurant will open this fall. But that estimate is outdated, according to Merges.
Merges said he expects Hyde Park’s Yusho – a scaled down version of his original West Side restaurant – to open around June or July. Merges said he expects it to take 9 to 10 weeks to receive city permits and 12 to 14 weeks to construct the restaurant.
The restaurant will likely feature seating for around 40 as well as an outdoor patio, Merges said. There will be beers and cocktails on tap, wine and sake, a traditional warm Japanese liquor made from rice. According to Merges, the restaurant’s alcoholic offerings will center around beer, whiskey and sake.
Merges says Hyde Park’s Yusho restaurant will likely be his third, opening after another planned location at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas, Nev.