Foods & Culinary

A year after the workers’ revolt closed its doors, Chicago’s Fat Rice is back under a new name

In recent months, passers-by have seen people walk in and out of Fat Rice, the Logan Square restaurant that closed in June 2020 after workers painted a picture of a toxic work environment under owners Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo. It turns out that the duo will be calling a new restaurant next month. opened Noodle bird, which serves well-known fat rice dishes such as pancakes and pork and ginger dumplings.

Conlon and Lo talked to the tribune over the weekend and said The NoodleBird menu includes rice noodle dishes and charcoal-grilled chicken. This fits a description in a job ad posted on Craigslist in June that “names all the foodies, creative, fun-loving, hard-working superstars.” The ad did not mention Fat Rice by name, but did include the address of the restaurant and mentioned that “a new fast-casual restaurant with a live fire barbecue and handmade noodles in Logan Square” is coming to the location.

It’s been a year since restaurant workers across the country were empowered flooded social media with stories of toxic employers, including the owners of Fat Rice, who saw their employees burn their uniforms to protest management abuse. The restaurant staff used social media to report complaints that would lead to the Fat Rice closure. Conlon and Lo have since held back quite a bit, although late last year and without fanfare, they started a cocktail delivery service and a hot sauce company, the Chicago spirit. The drinks were reminiscent of those from the Ladies’ Room, their shuttered speakeasy bar next to Fat Rice.

Lo and Conlon did not respond to Eater’s questions in a timely manner. But they have tried speaking and emailing disgruntled workers in hopes of starting a dialogue about the missteps that led to the shutdown, according to several former Fat Rice employees. The job posting, published in June and deleted earlier this month, read, “We’re an Asian-inspired restaurant and grocery retail company focused on team values, professional advancement, and marketing the best things to dine. ”

The ad also states that management is committed to “creating a positive, respectful environment that welcomes team members and guests from different backgrounds” while at the same time providing “open and positive communication for the sustainable growth of our team, our business and to promote our community ”.

The owners of Fat Rice renewed their food and liquor licenses in November and extended them to 2022, according to the city.

According to an email she sent to a former worker, Lo emailed workers in ril in hopes of calling a professional development coach. In the email Eater received, she writes that she spent a lot of time “doing a lot of self-reflection and thinking about how I could have done things differently”. She writes, “I know I made mistakes” and hopes that she can use the “input of her former co-workers” to learn and make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again.

While Conlon and Lo wouldn’t describe in detail what they’ve been doing since the restaurant closed last year, they do tribune that they have consulted with a variety of HR and diversity, equity and inclusion firms “to give us another lens to look at our business”.

They also secured a $ 908,227 loan from the state paycheck protection program. The tribe reports that personnel and supplier costs have been incurred – five of Fat Rice’s 50 workers stay in the new restaurant. In addition, according to federal records Fat Rice received $ 1.8 million from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. This amount was awarded to the parent company LoCo Foods in May.

A newsletter explosion on Monday afternoon announced the upcoming restaurant: “And while we’re going to own the restaurant, we’ve set up a professional leadership and management team to take over day-to-day operations. In addition, we now have an HR partner that is accessible to the entire team and we work with diversity, equity and inclusion experts to help us and our team grow. “

Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo at the 2018 James Beard Awards.

Barry Crowbar / Eater Chicago

Fat Rice opened in 2012 following the success of the X-Marx underground pop-up restaurant by Conlon and Lo. Critics praise the restaurant for Conlon’s take on Asian cuisine. The casual dining room with communal tables booming hip-hop music helped establish Logan Square as a viable destination for opening a restaurant away from downtown Chicago. In 2018 he won the James Beard Foundation Award for Great Lakes Best Chef.

During his ascent, Conlon faced issues of cultural appropriation. As a white chef from Massachusetts who was recognized for cooking with Asian ingredients, he experienced success that American BIPOC chefs often cannot match. Colon groaned when asked about this type of privilege, saying that other chefs didn’t work as hard as he did and that he deserved his place as a flavor maker.

According to workers, he reacted with a fiery temperament when BIPOC staff pointed out the differences between traditionally preparing a dish and the spin of Fat Rice. There were also concerns about the restaurant’s playlist favoring hip-hop songs, which frequently dropped the N word despite the discomfort of black customers. At one point, Conlon was suspended from his own restaurant because of anger problems. Lo and Conlon would eventually get divorced while both continued to run Fat Rice in a building owned by Lo’s family.

Earlier this summer, Lo and Conlon reached out to Joey Pham, a former Fat Rice employee who shared their stories on Instagram in June 2020, so Pham. When they were on the comeback path, it seemed like they wanted their workers’ blessings on the new project. Pham declined to comment to Eater about the restaurant’s return, saying they had “said everything I could about Fat Rice.” Other former workers declined to comment on the story, citing symptoms of pandemic fatigue and a desire not to stir the pot any further.

This marks the second high-profile, controversial restaurant return to Chicago this year, as Nini’s Deli reopened in West Town earlier this month. Ninis closed in 2020 after its owners made a series of homophobic and racist comments.

  • Fat Rice will reopen as NoodleBird more than a year after closing on allegations of racism [Tribune]
  • The celebrated Fat Rice crashes after the screams of the employees [ECHI]
  • Fat Rice, Chicago’s pioneering fusion restaurant, is closing for “anytime soon” to sell meal sets [ECHI]

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