A Logan Square Bar Copes With The Tragic Death of a Chef Days Before Opening

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After years of working at restaurants, Felipe Hernandez was brimming with excitement about finally opening his own. Hernandez was a partner and co-chef at Common Decency, an upcoming bar in Logan Square. Hernandez — with friends chef Mark Steuer, beverage director Kelsey Keller, and partner Jason Turley — had big plans for the space at 3154 W. Diversey Avenue.

Hernandez, a native of Munster, Indiana, worked at restaurants like Takito Kitchen, Bistro Campagne, the Bedford, El Che Bar, and Funkenhausen. Simply nicknamed “Bro,” he was known as an all-around good guy, and ready to take the next step in his career with owning a place.

That dream was cut short when, just days from opening, on Friday, April 5, Hernandez died suddenly after what friends and family described as an accident. No foul play was involved. Funeral services were held on Sunday, April 14. Hernandez was 34.

Originally set to open in December, Common Decency’s opening date inside the former Lost Lake space had already been pushed back a few times when the tragic loss of their chef temporarily halted work. Chicago’s culinary community responded in kind with an outpouring of support for the Common Decency team.

Hernandez’s family, who live in Indiana, declined comment. They were in town over the weekend as Common Decency quietly opened on Sunday for a private fundraiser. Steuer says they raised nearly $8,000 which they’ll donate to Chicago-based Evolved Network, a charity that “provides experiential programming through culinary and gardening equipping youth in systemically oppressed communities with transformative healing, skills and support needed to evolve into masters of their unique gifts.”

Now, the staff is trying to get it together to open the bar and honor Hernandez’s work. The bar is set to open on Friday, April 26.

Hernandez worked with Steuer to build the menu at the bar and at a second restaurant that will occupy the room next door to the bar. Fever Dream will open later this year. Steuer says he’s hired a key member of the kitchen staff (a cook who’s worked with Steuer before) at Webster’s Wine Bar in Logan Square, with the ownership’s blessing, to help pick up where Hernandez left off in the kitchen.

Steuer, who led the kitchens at Funkenhausen and Bedford, worked with Hernandez for years. He struggled to articulate what his loss meant: “Spending time in the kitchen with him was one of my favorite things to do,” Steuer says.

He described Hernandez as a very “soulful” man. As adults grow older, it’s harder to find real friends, and Steuer says he was fortunate to share such a genuine connection with Hernandez. He recalls spending a day with Hernandez watching the Super Bowl and being introduced to his mother’s signature seven-layer dip. A version of it named after Hernandez appears on the bar’s opening menu.

Steuer posted a tribute on his Instagram account on Wednesday, April 10. He wrote: “I’m not sure how to even begin to navigate a life without you in it, but I will, and I promise to make you just as proud as you’ve made me over the years. To say that I’ll miss you every day is an understatement, but I know that all I need to do is recall any of the innumerable fond memories we made and you’ll be right here again.”

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