The owners of Hopleaf, have finalized a deal to buy the building that up until last week housed La Donna restaurant, Chicago Real Estate Daily reports, with the plan to open a restaurant focused on “Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.” We caught up with owner Michael Roper to find out the real scoop on the as-yet unnamed restaurant.
Roper tells us that current Hopleaf chef Ben Scheagren will be taking on the title of Executive Chef, and overseeing both restaurant’s menus. The new restaurant’s kitchen will have a wood-burning grill as its centerpiece, which will set the tone for the menu: instead of Hopleaf’s beer-friendly comfort foods, “we’ll do marinades, lots fresh herbs, the sort of thing that will be friendly with beer or wine,” says Roper. And with a planned wine list skewing heavily heavily old-world and a beer list comprised of all-draft American microbrews, he’s aiming for zero overlap with Hopleaf’s drinks list: “Hopleaf has always been a famous beer bar with a great wine list — hopefully the restaurant will be a famous wine bar with a great beer list.”
As if that’s not enough for Hopleaf fans, Roper’s planned major renovation of the La Donna space (he’s thinking a 45-seat restaurant downstairs, and a lounge on the second level) includes a large expansion that will create a communal prep kitchen for the new restaurant and Hopleaf. This means more room for culinary creativity with the new place — right now Roper is thinking charcuterie — but it also means big changes for Hopleaf. Currently, the bar’s kitchen is so tiny that the staff takes over the dining room to do their daily prep; the added prep space will have the bonus of opening the currently evening-only joint to the possibility of lunch service.
Depending on how quickly City Hall approves their permits, Roper plans to start building right away. “We could probably build this out in about four months,” he told us. “We’re shooting for Christmas or New Years as an opening. That would be awesome.”