Moments after our initial item on the closing of Custom House Tavern went up, we got a call back from Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, owner with her husband Peter of the restaurant as well as Maison and Eggy’s Diner. She was happy to speak frankly about why the restaurant was closing now, which she attributes first to the way the neighborhood has changed over a mere seven years: “You know, the neighborhood has really changed from the audience we were serving when we opened. With Columbia taking over so much of the area, the university presence is a lot stronger. After the financial crisis, a lot of that dinner business kind of went away, and we’ve seen a lot of other people move out, families have moved out. And frankly, the focus for restaurants has shifted further south, to the south Loop.” She says with the drop off, there was pressure from both the Hotel Blake and their mutual landlord for a more accessible concept that would bring more traffic to the hotel: “Basically, they want a sports bar. I love wings as much as the next person, but given two new babies [Maison and Eggy’s Diner], we felt it was better to just bow out and put our focus there. We love the concept, we love the food, and rather than bastardize it, we’ll just tuck it away for somewhere else.”
In the meantime, they have some changes planned for Maison and Eggy’s Diner in the Lakeshore East neighborhood, also driven at least in part by the composition of the neighborhood as they’ve gotten to know it better since opening in the spring. “It’s much broader [in demographics] than we expected,” Kim-Drohomyrecky admits. This discovery has been tougher on Eggy’s, she says— “It’s harder for people to get exactly what we’re doing. We finally just had to spell it out on the menu— there’s a section called Old School and there’s a section that just says Newfangled Stuff. So you can get your eggs, or you can get something that’s newer and more creative.”
The confusion over what exactly they were— old school coffeeshop? New American restaurant?— led to suspending dinner service in July, but they’re now talking about starting it back up, again focusing on a nightly rotating blue plate special— “We have these great people from Custom House who we don’t want to lose. So we said with Perry, let’s give dinner another shot and see if we can get people to see what we’re doing, taking diner classics and giving them a modern spin. I’m encouraged by the way Au Cheval has succeeded at doing that. Our closest competition is places like Wildberry’s, and we’re going to compete on the basis that the straight up food is better, the ingredients are better, and the menu is more creative and changes.”
Maison, she says, “has been the easier one— the concept [French restaurant] was clearer from the start.” But there are changes in the works for it as well. Brunch has been added to Maison’s service, but the big change is that the cafe and bar is going to be replaced by “a real bar. The neighborhood told us they wanted a watering hole.” Francois Genev, who also designed Spring and Green Zebra, will design the redesigned bar.