Ready to Roister

nick kokonas
Mar 31, 2016 · 5 min read

Tomorrow we will open the doors to Roister.

We could not be more excited to share this experience with diners from our neighborhood here in Chicago and all over the world.

The core idea for Roister took shape in 2006. We wanted to build a restaurant in which the kitchen and dining room united. Our goal from the beginning was to incorporate the dining tables in the kitchen, and the kitchen in the dining room, without defining where one space started and the other ended. We drew out a number of sketches depicting kitchen stations through the restaurant — a serpentine dining counter with cooking areas on both sides. Then, we allowed these ideas to sit on the shelf to marinate for several years.

When Andrew Brochu rejoined the Alinea Group as head chef at the Aviary in 2013, we knew it was the right time to revisit this idea. We loved Brochu’s cooking — a combination of super-refined techniques and bright flavors, juxtaposed with his passion for honest, rustic dishes. Brochu spent years cooking at Alinea and other Michelin starred restaurants, but he also made killer hot-wings at bars and casual places. We knew his outgoing personality would fit well with an open kitchen.

And so, nearly three years ago, we sat down with our architects Steve Rugo and Lindsay Graham who worked on Alinea, Next and The Aviary. We brought in James Geier, Joe Dolan and their team from 555, and we presented them with a list of core ideas:

• no distinction between kitchen / dining room

• serpentine dining ‘bar’

• No uniforms for staff, diners can be jeans / t-shirt

• Rustic though refined food

• Accessible pricing, but not inexpensive. Super high quality.

• Lively, loud, good mood music

• Open fire cooking as a core tool and centerpiece

• No ‘dining room’ means chefs can be servers

Etc. Etc! The list was long. And sometimes contradictory.

The Heart of Roister

Very quickly we realized that for us, casual did not mean simple.

Casual is an attitude of conviviality, neighborhood friendliness, and spontaneity. But it should not mean lower standards in any aspect of the restaurant.

We had some questions along the way. For example, where would we store dry goods in a kitchen that also exists as a dining room?

The answer: Everywhere. Allow them to be visible to diners.

Wood and Wine Storage, in the Dining Room

Or, how could we have a serpentine dining bar with refrigeration lines yet build kitchen hoods with proper fire safety? Well, it turns out you really can’t, and so, the kitchen became central to the space.

On and on we went. And as we answered one question — how to shield customers from the heat of a live hearth in the middle of summer (26 tons of cooling, upstairs) — we unearthed new problems to be evaluated and solved.

We spent years refining these ideas, putting them to paper, and designing a restaurant that fit our goals. Over time we simplified, stripped away the impractical, and kept what was moving in the right direction.

In the midst of this we argued constantly about the design, the vibe, the price ranges, and the menu. For our team, spirited free-range discussions have always been the norm. We challenged one another constantly and sometimes quite personally. No detail was too small to obsess over. Stemware - does it really matter? Plates from Austria — amazing but necessary? (yes!) How do we drop silverware on tables in a completely new way — one that is still casual, yet sophisticated? It was time to reinvent that as well.

All the silverware — and chopsticks — you need for the night….

Then one day Brochu said to us, “What do you think of the name Roister?”

— “Oyster?”

No, Roister. It means to enjoy and celebrate in a boisterous manner. To engage in noisy revelry. Think: bluster, rustic, without restraint.

And just like when we heard the word “Alinea” back in 2004, we knew that our story was on course.

As the design for the kitchen came together, we realized it didn’t leave much room for seating. But it was critically tied to the heart of the restaurant. We did, however, have an empty basement. If we sat guests downstairs, they would miss out on the kitchen vibe that was core to the concept.

So, we decided to build another kitchen in the basement. There’s a slightly different feel downstairs. It’s a bit more refined, but every single seat is right in the middle of a second world-class kitchen. Thus was born The Prep Kitchen.

The Prep Kitchen Experience

Hundreds of decisions later, dozens of menus drafted, created and tested, budgets and goals expanded, we are finally seeing our dreams transpire.

This restaurant is unlike anything we have done before. We can’t wait to see you there.

Get ready to Roister.

— Grant, Nick & Brochu (no one calls him Andrew)

951 W Fulton Market, Chicago. Walk-ins are always welcome, but bookings are available via for the chef’s counters and a la carte dining to avoid any waits. contact: with any questions. Lunch, the Prep Kitchen, and private events coming soon. Limited seating the first few weeks, open Wednesday through Sunday only at first. for details, and see us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All photography on this post: Matthew Gilson Thanks Matt!

nick kokonas

Written by

I am not unemployed. I'm NSFW. Co-Owner: Alinea / Next / The Aviary / Roister / The Aviary NYC / Founder & CEO: Tock, Inc.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade