The Oak Park Arts District is about to get a new Asian fusion tapas restaurant in one of the longtime vacant storefronts formerly owned by Chris Kleronomos.
Jason Morales, a partner with MORA Asian Fusion, tells Wednesday Journal he hopes to have the 2,800-square-foot restaurant at 201 Harrison St. up and running in May.
It will be the third location for MORA, Morales said; the restaurateur opened the first location in Plainfield about two years ago and a second location in Bolingbrook about six months ago. Morales said he and his business partners also are looking to open a fourth location in Chicago.
The new restaurant, which will seat about 85 diners, will be similar to the other MORA locations, but the chef at each gives the menu their own flair, he said.
“All MORAs have the core menu that we know the public loves; at the same time each restaurant has its own executive chef,” Morales said. “Plainfield is sushi heavy because the chef there, his forte is sushi; in Bolingbrook (the chef’s) forte is French food, so he comes up with dishes that are more suited to his skills but with a MORA twist.”
He added that they are working on incorporating Filipino recipes into the new menu.
The dishes are mainly small-plate items that run from about $6 to $18, Morales said.
“Everything is on a smaller scale, and they’re designed to be shared,” Morales said, noting that he, personally, doesn’t like to spend $50 to $75 on a single plate of food at a restaurant because if you don’t enjoy the dish, you’re stuck with it.
“I like tapas because you get multiple dishes and they’re designed to be shared,” he said. “You may not like one of them, but you’re going to love the other dishes.”
Morales, who has worked for years designing restaurant interiors, said the Oak Park MORA will have some design elements that mirror the look and feel of the other locations but that it will have its own personality.
“You’re going to know you’re inside a MORA,” he said.
The Oak Park Board of Trustees approved a liquor license for MORA at its March 5 meeting. Morales said the bar will offer craft drinks and craft beer. “For example, we won’t carry Sapporo; that’s like Miller Lite in Japan,” he said.
He added that some of the wines offered at MORA “are made exclusive to us.”
Morales said he chose the Harrison Street location because although it is tucked away in a largely residential area of the village. He added that MORA is a destination restaurant.
“People will come to us,” he said. “We’re not like a fast-food chain where we rely on heavy traffic.”
The fledgling business district has seen tremendous growth over the last couple of years, since the redevelopment of the building once occupied by Mexican-food restaurant La Majada, 226 Harrison St. and the foreclosure of multiple properties on Harrison once owned by Chris Kleronomos.
Those properties were purchased in 2015 by a real estate investment group called Harrison Street Ventures LLC, which has worked to rehab and market the long-vacant storefronts. Kleronomos was given a minority ownership stake in the properties as part of the foreclosure agreement with Harrison Street Ventures.
Morales said he has been working with landlord Harrison Street for about a year to open the restaurant, which he said would have happened much sooner had it not been for the permitting process with the village of Oak Park.
He said the village did not communicate effectively with a contractor it uses for permitting, which stalled the project unnecessarily. Morales added that the holdup resulted in two investors in the restaurant backing out of the venture.
“We wanted to open in November, but we just got our permit now,” he said.
As a professional restaurant designer and builder, who has built over 50 restaurants – mainly in downtown Chicago – Morales said the village permitting process was the most difficult he’s seen.
The village’s computer system would incorrectly show aspects of the project had not been approved when they in fact had, and then it would take a month every time he had to resubmit paperwork for review, he said.
“We lost so much time in the process,” he said.