Last June, Christine Tully Aranza, co-owner with her husband John of Berwyn's Autre Monde, was in the basement of her restaurant when she heard the kitchen staff shouting that there was a fire in the back of the building.
"After we called 911," Aranza remembers, "we had fire trucks from all neighboring communities here within five minutes. Berwyn Oak Park, Cicero, Forest Park, North Riverside, they were all here."
For a restaurant that had been open only about a year, this fire could have been devastating. Fortunately, the blaze was somewhat contained, and Aranza and her team have found ways to make the best of a burnt situation.
Last summer, my wife Carolyn and I actually ran into the Aranzas at Chicago's Nightwood, one of Chicago's more innovative restaurants. The fire had given the Aranzas some free time do what they almost never have time to do when the restaurant was in full swing: go out to eat.
"We were really inspired," Aranza told me, "that so many restaurants are embracing the same things we are by supporting local farms. It's very encouraging."
When disaster strikes a restaurant or any small business, a big challenge is keeping the team together when their usual place of business is out of business.
Aranza explains that "We were able to put some of our kitchen guys in places like The Purple Pig and Butcher & Larder, which is great because it gave them exposure to some excellent chefs." Locally, Poor Phil's and Winberie's provided summer employment for Autre Monde staff.
When life gives you fire, use it as fuel. The Aranzas were able to use this disaster as an opportunity to strengthen their understanding of the local dining environment. It also gave them a chance to introduce their staff to different kitchen experiences to help make Autre Monde an even better restaurant than it was before the fire.
Chef Dan Pancake has some new dishes for the opening menu, including flatbread of spicy duck sausage, straciatella, and dried cherry tomatoes, as well as bocadillo of white anchovy, asparagus, poached egg, with salsa verde.
Opening day for Autre Monde is set for around October 16.