Opening a tasting-menu restaurant without a connection to a pedigreed chef or restaurant group is a challenge in Chicago or anywhere else across the country. Trying to do that during a pandemic only increases the difficulty.
But that’s just what Trevor Teich did at Claudia, his quirky fine dining restaurant in Bucktown that debuted in fall 2021 after years of near misses in trying to find a space. The short-term returns were impressive with Claudia earning a Michelin star and other accolades. Teich says he was particularly fond of how Forbes recognized the restaurant’s service. The North Shore native named Claudia after his mother and it grew from a series of pop-ups for years as the chef dreamed about opening a restaurant. He also drew on children’s stories and nostalgia and centered the meal around a special bento box filled with artfully made food.
But the love for fine dining ebbs and flows in Chicago, depending on the economy, media, and trends. Teich says the building’s owner, Harpal Singh, informed him on Monday that he had decided to immediately close the restaurant. Teich, who had tickets to the James Beard Foundation Gala on Monday night never made it to the party. He announced the decision to friends via a Facebook post: “The best little restaurant no one knew about,” Teich concludes.
In an interview Wednesday morning, an emotional Teich called the decision to close heartbreaking and surprising. It wasn’t his choice. He reflected on the grind of living the pop-up life prior to opening his restaurant and the state of fine dining in Chicago: “Do we only want to be known for deep dish?” he says.
Ironically — unbeknownst to Teich — Gov. J.B. Pritzker mentioned “grabbing a quick slice of deep-dish” in his Monday remarks at the Beards.
Teich ran a series of pop-up dinners, sometimes in shifting locales. Teich, now 42, says pop-ups are in his past — he’s too old to pile his equipment and ingredients into an Uber, and then figure out logistics the day of the event. While he isn’t leaving the restaurant world, he doesn’t see opening another restaurant named after his mother.
The space, along Damen, just south of Armitage, has a storied restaurant history with names including Stephanie Izard and Takashi Yagihashi coming through. However, the criminal activity of the previous restaurant’s chef left a scar, Teich says, and that was hard to overcome with folks falsely assuming there was a connection with Claudia.
But right now the focus is grieving: “I just feel very sad for this staff — it’s not just one person,” Teich says. “It takes an army to do something like this.”
It also takes a pile of money, something that Teich didn’t have. He says that to fund a restaurant as ambitious as Claudia adequately, it would probably take $1 million, with $500,000 devoted to outreach — the type of marketing that gets the attention of national publications. In reality, Claudia had half of the needed funding but continued to flourish anyway. Teich says celebrating life events with customers was the most cherished part of running a restaurant: “Whether you want to admit it or not, a lot of memories are made in restaurants,” he says.