If he’s being honest, Erling Wu-Bower says he worries if Chicago diners remember him. It’s been three years since he left Pacific Standard Time in River North, and now he and business partner Josh Tilden are opening a new restaurant.
Maxwells Trading should open sometime this winter at 1516 W. Caroll Avenue in West Loop, west of Ogden Avenue near venues like Cobra Lounge and District Brew Yards. Reps are calling this area, which sports a different feel versus Randolph Restaurant Row, the Kinzie Industrial Corridor.
Wu-Bower wowed critics with his work at Nico Osteria, the seafood-focused Italian restaurant that will soon close inside Gold Coast’s Thompson Hotel. He’s a three-time James Beard Award finalist and his cooking takes creole and cajun influences from his father (Calvin Bower grew up in South Louisiana) and the Chinese roots from his mother, former dining critic and chef Olivia Wu. The chef describes his mentality as cooking “intimately personal cuisine.”
“I’ve had all these other incredible gifts given to me, Italian charcuterie, seafood,” Wu-Bower says. “‘New American’…I think it’s a little bit limiting.”
That’s why Maxwells Trading is challenging to describe. Wu-Bower wants to incorporate all his experiences. He grew up in Chicago’s suburbs but calls himself “a child of the city” and that means serving what he grew up eating. That includes Thai, Middle Eastern, and Italian. Rick Bayless’ Mexican restaurants also left an impression.
“I genuinely believe that your heritage gets added on to throughout your career, both professionally and personally,” says Wu-Bower.
Pacific Standard Time, one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants in 2018, was the first project from Tilden and Wu-Bower’s Underscore Hospitality, hoping to bring a new energy to Chicago’s restaurant scene. PST was a collaboration with Wu-Bower’s mentors and former employers at One Off Hospitality. It opened to positive reviews, but the relationship soured during the pandemic. Wu-Bower didn’t provide too many details about the exit. He did say their philosophies in opening restaurants differed from One Off’s; they had different goals. He and Tilden left in 2020 and a year later, Kahan, Donnie Madia, and Terry Alexander converted the space into a second location of Avec.
Wu-Bower has been under the radar since, working at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, and taking consultant gigs. Being away from the restaurant grind has left Wu-Bower with a bit of a lingering doubt. The restaurant world is volatile and trendy. Will diners care about his past successes? “I hope what we cook here and our service will dispel any forgetfulness I guess,” he says. ”I hope that my work speaks for itself whether or not Chicago diners remember.”
Still, he’s been preparing for his eventual return.
“I find myself working out at nine o’clock at night, just because I think my body’s used to an adrenaline rush at nine o’clock at night,” Wu-Bower says. “I think one of the cool things about opening a restaurant and the whole process is it really like reinvigorates the mind and then at the end of the process, kind of reinvigorates the body to doing everything I can to get back into fighting shape, but I’m sure there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. Luckily, there will be younger and more spry members of our team in the kitchen to support me.”
Maxwells Trading, 1516 W. Caroll Avenue, planned for a winter opening.