It’s not a new thing — we have blurry childhood memories of scarfing down Thai in a former McDonald’s space — but it seems that more and more media-friendly restaurants are opening up in spaces that were originally occupied by (and designed for) fast-food restaurants. We can’t help but ask, Carrie-style: Is launching an authentic, delicious kitchen out of the bones of an old quick-serve place a bona fide trend?
We first started paying attention to the phenomenon when Sky Full of Bacon puzzled over the former incarnation of Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview — turns out the stellar Turkish food is served out of what was formerly an Arby’s.
Then there was another SFoB Bridgeview find, one of the many Chicagoland Arturo’s (not necessarily related to one another) located in a former Pizza Hut at 7260 W. 79th St. And then there’s Italian newcomer Tocco, the latest venture from the team behind Follia, which makes its home in a former McDonalds — despite its deep-fryer past, owner Bruno Abate told Chicago Mag that "the space is too much sexy!"
And again, a few weeks ago, Chicago Mag lets us know that a former Taco Bell in Naperville has been reborn as the casual Israeli restaurant Naf Naf (1095 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville; 630 904 7200), a casual Israeli restaurant. They’ve repurposed the fast-food setup to work for their selection of falafel, shawarma, hummus, and baba ghannouj — “’You can order at the counter,’ says Altman. ‘You can sit down and have a waitress. You can do anything you want.’"
And then last week at the Tribune, Renee Enna said of Arlington Heights’s Penang, "The Jetsons-like retro exterior betrays a fast-food history (the site used to house an Italian beef joint named Zippy’s, which might explain the fried calamari …)"
We suppose something has to happen to the shells of economy-eaten counter-service lineups — and we’ll admit to kind of loving the prevailingly 60s-kitsch architecture that tends to accompany them. We’re always happy to see a schawarma-purveyor or a source for "too much sexy" Italian replace a Drive-Thru than another iteration on the tired old chicken nugget.