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VOL. 127 | NO. 169 | Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Work Moves Forward on Midtown’s Chiwawa

By Sarah Baker

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Plans are moving forward for Chiwawa, a Southern-inspired Mexican restaurant near Overton Square in Midtown that hopes to open this fall.

Chiwawa, a Southern-inspired Mexican restaurant, could open in the next couple of months in the former Chicago Pizza Factory.

(Photo Courtesy of brg3s architects)

A $347,257 permit was recently filed for Chiwawa’s renovations of the two-story, 3,196-square-foot building at 2059 Madison Ave. The space housed Chicago Pizza Factory in the 1980s and has been vacant since.

Chiwawa is a concept by Taylor Berger, partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato, along with six other principals: J.D. Sledd, Frank Adcock, Daniel Flanagan, Katherine Flanagan, Michael Hasselle and Rachel Hasselle. It’s just a few blocks west of Berger’s highest performing YoLo location at 6 S. Cooper St.

“I would call it Southern interpretation of Mexican,” Berger said. “I wanted a small Mexican menu, but I wanted it to be fun and creative. We have about 12 to 15 items, and each one of them is really awesome.”

For example, Chiwawa will feature “juantons,” a Mexican take on Asian wontons. The restaurant’s sole hotdog offering, the Chiwawa, is deep fried, bacon-wrapped, and in a Mexican French baguette called a bolillo roll.

Berger’s goal is to keep Chiwawa’s price point low, with no item on the menu exceeding $6. The executive chef is Crash Hethcox from Revival Southern Food Co.

“Everything is a la carte,” Berger said. “If you order a taco, you get a taco. You don’t get a plate of rice and beans and all of that stuff.”

Much like nearby restaurants with a booming patio business like Boscos and Bayou Bar & Grill, Chiwawa’s main selling point will be its outdoor space. So much so that the restaurant was redesigned by brg3s architects to improve patio access, with the main seating and bar area upstairs.

“When the building in its last incarnation, the kitchen and the bathrooms were on the east wall, separating the patio from the rest of the restaurant,” Berger said. “There was no flow – you actually had to go out onto the sidewalk and walk around the building to get up onto the patio. Because we felt that the patio was such a great part of this space, we moved the upstairs bathrooms to the southwest corner of the building and the kitchen is downstairs.”

The contractor is ViktorHall Construction LLC, the same firm that completed YoLo Midtown’s build-out construction. Despite the building’s more than 20-year vacancy, the rehab wasn’t as bad as Berger had feared.

“We had to do a lot of structural engineering work to make sure that it was sturdy,” Berger said. “But they had kept the roof in good condition, which basically saved the building from water damage. Most of the studs and the joists were OK.”

Chiwawa’s landlord is Caruthers Group LLC, the real estate arm of Caruthers & Associates Inc., a property tax firm owned by Taylor Caruthers. The space was a disco bar in the 1970s (during Overton Square’s heyday) called Sweet Caroline’s, named after Caruthers’ mother. Then it became Chicago Pizza, a side business started by Caruthers’ late father, Jerry.

“Our property tax business just got so big that we really didn’t have time to mess with that,” Caruthers said. “The Square was dying – they closed Friday’s and Silky’s, and everything went towards Beale Street. (My dad) locked the door and didn’t go back in there for a long time.”

After the property stayed in the estate process for a while, Caruthers bought it last year.

“I didn’t want to see it sit there and rot, so I had Alex Turley from CB Richard Ellis try to lease it out. Taylor Berger came along and I liked his concept. I said, ‘Hey, he’s done YoLo and he’s done pretty well, so let’s just give it a chance.’ Hopefully, it hits. I think the patio will do really well there.”

Exterior plans call for an “urban shack” feel, Berger said, “keeping with what it was originally.” Chiwawa’s branding and signage will be integrated into the façade of the building.

Chiwawa’s partners are hoping for a 90-day construction period with a November opening.

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