The historic Montgomery Ward Company Complex in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, now known as 600 West Chicago, has hosted many tenants in its 113-year history. Two years ago, Sterling Bay, a Chicago-based real estate investment and development firm, spent more than $12 million to bring the beauty of this 1.6-million-square-foot landmark property’s original features back to life while also modernizing some of the shared spaces.
Facts of Note
- Opened: Jan. 29, 2020
- Scope of project: Construction of a main-floor kitchen and servery, plus a basement-level kitchen designed for bulk preparation of soups and packaging of grab-and-go offerings
- Size: 12,400 sq. ft, including the 1,875-sq.-ft. basement production kitchen
- Seats: Approximately 175
- Average check: $9.75
- Total annual sales: $2.5 million
- Transactions: 700 per day on average
- Current Hours: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; currently closed on weekends
- Menu concepts:
- Grano: Pizza al padellino (deep dish) and rustic Italian piadina (flatbread) sandwiches
- Field: Made-to-order bowls with fresh proteins and vegetables rotating daily
- Braze: Made-to-order bowls, burritos and burgers with fresh proteins and vegetables rotating daily
- Cafe: Single-origin Columbian coffee, teas, hot chocolate, bagels, croissants, cookies, pastries and quiche
- Bar: Cocktails, wine and beer
- Market: Salads, sandwiches, wraps, snacks, grab-and-go lunches and to-go dinners, wine, liquor, cold craft beers, and an assortment of appetizers, dips and sides
- Staff: A general manager, executive chef, retail/front-of-the-house manager, assistant general manager, 2 sous chefs and 15 hourly employees
- Website: thefarehousemarket.com
The Farehouse Market Team
- Owner: Jointly owned by Sterling Bay, Chicago, and Quest Food Management Services, Lombard, Ill. Sterling Bay: Andrew Essary, SE, LEED AP, senior project manager; Adam Chodos, project analyst; Rick Kintigh, resident architect; and Stephanie Smothers, senior interior designer. Quest Food Management Services: Nicholas Saccaro, president
- Foodservice director/manager: Tito Conza
- Executive chef: Doran Payne
- Architect/interior design: Box Studios, Chicago
- Foodservice consultants: Reitano Design Group, Indianapolis: Scott Reitano, FCSI, president and project design; Chris Wair, design principal; Jonathan Nikiel, FCSI, project manager; Bronson Lipinski, project manager and production supervisor
- Environmental consultants: Environmental Systems Design, Chicago: Tim Rathsam
- Other consultants: Statement Communications, Chicago: Jennifer Depakakibo; Ideation Studios, Chicago, which handled branding/concept development
- Equipment dealer: Edward Don & Company, Woodridge, Ill.
- Construction: Bulley & Andrews, Chicago
Worth Mentioning: The Judges’ Comments
FE&S appreciates the following professionals for generously contributing their time to judge this year’s competition.
- Bill Davis, regional sales manager, Edward Don & Company, Woodridge, Ill.
- Stuart Davis, vice president, Midwest division, Next Step Design, Chicago
- Beth Kuczera, president, Equipment Dynamics Inc., Chicago
- Kristin Sedej, owner, S2O Consultants Inc., Chicago
“Interior design does a good job of honoring the facility’s history while being in tune with the foodservice needs and expectations of the day.”
“The designers did a good job of addressing the problems of concrete columns on the main level and the lack of adequate prep and catering spaces.”
“The facility meets the goal of serving a diverse audience — both B&I customers that work in the building and a broader consumer base living in the neighborhood.”
The project was part of an overarching reimagination of an industrial building located on the Chicago River. The 600 West Chicago building was originally a large warehouse for Montgomery Ward Co. Over the past several years, Sterling Bay Chicago has been repurposing the entire building to serve as unique offices for various tenants. The focus of the redesign of the entire building’s first floor and exterior was to create an open and inviting main lobby and pay homage to the origins of the building development from the early 1900s. The project replaced a tired foodservice operation with a multitiered foodservice amenity better suited to the demographics of the tenants of the space and the burgeoning community around the building.
Goals Set and Met
The primary project goal was to provide office tenants and guests from the neighborhood with varied food purchase opportunities when in the building. This encompasses early morning through early evening hours.
The cafe, simply branded Cafe, sits at the main entrance so customers can conveniently access this area as they enter the building. This venue includes a full-service coffee program, pastries, hot breakfast sandwiches and other handheld items. The venue remains open throughout the day to offer tenants, guests and neighborhood residents a place to meet away from an office environment.
The cafe space also serves as a gathering place after regular business hours. The front side of the massive bar operates as the morning coffee and cafe venue. The opposite side of the island is a fully operational bar. The space appeals to both office workers and anyone in the neighborhood.
The main food concept areas in The Farehouse Market operate primarily as lunch venues. Three distinct serving concepts — Grano, Braze and Field — offer unique, constantly changing menus. Key components include preordering and pickup for off-premises consumption.
The Market venue adjacent to the main seating area offers a self-serve fresh food bar, prepackaged grab-and-go options, and an array of snacks and beverages. The menu offers the same high-quality fare as the full-service venues in a convenience-oriented setting. Preordering is a key feature here, too.
Providing an upscale food experience to a relatively underserved neighborhood in Chicago was a defined project goal. To accomplish this, the market includes an outside entrance that allows the public to enter the foodservice operation without needing to access the whole building. In addition to offering prepackaged fresh food and a large selection of traditional beverages, the Market also features packaged alcohol.
The concepts all come together to create a space like no other, say those involved. “The unique design of the concepts of the space — from the three dining options to the cafe and the market to the bar — has provided incredible flexibility for us to provide so many diverse options in an 8,000-square-foot space,” says Nicholas Saccaro, president of Quest Food Management Services, which operates The Farehouse Market. “We can provide fair-trade lattes, fresh-made charcuterie platters to go, scratch-made padinas, hand-packed burgers, plant-forward options and so much more. The variety that can be produced and showcased in this space is immeasurable.”
Design Challenges and Features
One of the largest challenges of the project was the literal forest of large concrete columns throughout the old warehouse building (seemingly about 4 feet on center). To address the column issue, designers did what truly great designers do: They came up with a cute slogan. The mantra became “Embrace the columns!” Rather than look at them as impediments to design, the design team worked to make them “disappear” by using them as anchors in the back-of-the-house work areas or as functional elements in the public spaces.
The columns became the defining endpoint and a central focus at the cafe/bar. The center bar island utilizes a column as a top-shelf liquor and wine selection display. The columns also serve as space definers between the overall circulation area and the queuing areas for each venue. The columns create a natural divide for customers to stand out of the main walkways and seating areas while being served at the cafe/bar.
Another defining challenge of the project was the lack of available space on the main level, which did not allow for adequate prep and catering areas.
Designers met the space challenge by repurposing forgotten and unused space on the lower level of the building. The building actually has two distinct ground-level spaces. The receiving dock at the back of the building sits at ground level, as does the serving area on the street side of the building. With both on the same level, designers then created a production kitchen on the receiving level. All deliveries come to this kitchen first. “You might say that we created a ghost kitchen before ghost kitchens were cool,” says Chris Wair, design principal, Reitano Design Group in Indianapolis.
The production kitchen contains the majority of the refrigeration and freezer space, the beer cooler and the bulk prep area. Culinary staff use the two combi ovens in this kitchen to support all the primary cooking requirements for venues on the first floor. Ventless combis were specified due to the difficulty in getting additional ventilation out of the building. Gaining approval of the ventless equipment required the design team to go before the Chicago Planning Board for approval.
This kitchen also serves as the catering production kitchen. With a large number of tenants utilizing this amenity, it was a big part of the programming requirement.
Notably, the ground level kitchen also served as a production space in the COVID-19 environment for some of Quest Foodservice Management’s other local outlets. “The innovative design of the production kitchen has allowed us incredible flexibility and creativity in utilizing this space to not only benefit 600 West Chicago but also for other area operations,” Saccaro says. “This has allowed us to reduce costs for many of our partners during the pandemic while still providing high-quality, scratch-made foods.”
Since the Renovation
Saccaro is succinct when speaking of the pandemic. “Oh, what an adventure with COVID,” he says.
The market and cafe opened in late January 2020, while the dining concepts and the bar opened in early February 2020. The initial feedback from the 600 W. Chicago building employees was “incredible,” Saccaro says. Quest received strong positive comments about food quality, menu innovation, variety and service. The company began to see significant growth in bar traffic from occupants who wanted a place to socialize and build community after work. Greater numbers of neighborhood residents also started coming to the bar.
The Farehouse Market closed for approximately two months during the height of pandemic-induced shutdowns. The facility reopened in May 2020 with only the cafe and market. In June, staff began offering a limited menu featuring options from each of the three dining concepts and introduced outdoor dining. The Farehouse Market became a presence on Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash. Quest introduced a new barbecue dining concept in January, reopened for indoor service in February, and is now slowly seeing sales and occupancy begin to grow. “Our collective hopes are that by fall of 2021, the building and Farehouse will be bustling again at full capacity,” Saccaro says.