The Chicago restaurant scene lost many of its favorites during the past two years. Few have made a comeback, with the delightful exception of Parachute last month. Chefs and owners Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark closed their beloved Korean restaurant in March 2020 over safety concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting to a takeout-only model and then closing entirely in June 2021 for renovations.
Reopen since the end of May, the extended break allowed Kim and Clark to rethink their restaurant model. They wanted to create a more sustainable environment for their staff, so they instituted a 20 percent service charge that’s added to every check and ensures a living wage for everyone.
“The restaurant industry is based on a template that’s broken, so taking the steps to not have people feeling like they are depending on guests to pay their wages makes a huge difference psychologically,” Kim says.
That’s just one of the several changes the husband-and-wife team have instituted at the Avondale restaurant, which only recently opened up reservations again. “It’s still creative, it’s still modern, all of the things you think of when you think of Parachute, just a little more focused and intentional,” Kim says.
The lauded spot—Parachute has a James Beard Award and a MICHELIN star under its belt—is up for a Beard again, in the outstanding restaurant category. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at some of the changes.
The sustainability ethos extends to the menu as well. Kim and Clark have cut it down to a dozen items, which will rotate regularly, making it a more manageable menu in terms of food costs and prep time. The latter, Kim hopes, will provide staff with a better work-life balance.
The dishes on the menu now are unabashedly Korean, Kim says, showcasing ingredients such as gochujang, the Korean red chile paste; a host of banchan, or Korean small plates like kimchi and seasoned spinach, made fresh daily; and locally sourced meats and produce. An ever-changing hwe selection, or raw seafood, will always be available. Other dishes on the reopening menu currently include haemul pajeon, a Korean seafood pancake, and yeomso tang, a goat stew.
Parachute’s bing bread, a skillet-fried bread stuffed with potato, bacon, cheese, and scallions, and a diner favorite before Parachute closed temporarily, is no longer on the menu. Kim says the dish isn’t really representative of the restaurant’s Korean identity; she added the Chinese food-influenced creation to the menu in the hopes that it would be a gateway to Korean food.
“People now have so much of a better understanding of what Korean food is, so I think people will appreciate digging deeper, being able to handle a little more funk,” Kim says.
Parachute’s new beverage list, or sool program, is also playing up that funky element through drinks like makgeolli, or unfiltered Korean rice wine; domestic and imported soju; and a selection of wines that pair with the food, including Italian Lambrusco and Mexican Chardonnay. Beer is limited to a single collaboration—a farmhouse ale made with prickly pear—with experimental spot Illuminated Brew Works. The restaurant also offers spirit-free beverages, such as a cucumber cooler with Thai basil and tonic.
Some of the physical changes at the restaurant include repairing cracks and leaks in the 100-year-old building it’s located in, as well as improving the wheelchair ramp. There’s a new sound system featuring vintage records, inspired by Clark’s pandemic side project, where he focused on mastering the world of analogue sound systems.
The core of the restaurant, though, remains the same, Kim says. The wood and brick accents inside the space, one of the defining elements of Parachute along with its long communal table, have stayed. So has Kim and Clark’s commitment to hospitality and desire to showcase even more Korean dishes to a wider audience. “For me, it’s about being more authentic to myself,” Kim says.
Parachute is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 pm to 10 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5 pm to 11 pm.