After nearly 40 years, Chef Luciano, the Near South Side’s take-out and fast food restaurant has closed. While quick-service meals have grabbed the attention of everyone in recent years, from celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless (Xoco) to large restaurant groups like Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (M Burger, Beatrix), the family restaurant Near South Side was ahead of the trend by about four decades. The gap left by the neighborhood beacon will soon be filled by Erick Williams, the chef and owner of Virtue in Hyde Park.
David Gupta founded the restaurant and adopted his character of âChef Lucianoâ as a marketing gimmick to get customers. feel more comfortable that an Indian immigrant sold them jerk chicken, pasta and grilled fish. Gupta, now 82, has slowed down after serving Chicago politicians and community members since 1982. His son, Rocky Gupta, has run the restaurant for years and his family has also been looking to leave Chicago. The pandemic has accelerated the process.
âWe were ready to move on, hoping to move to a smaller setting; a quieter city to raise our children, âsays Gupta.
This decision presented a unique opportunity for Wlliams. During the pandemic, Williams found her own calling by cooking meals for overworked hospital staff on the front lines to fight COVID-19. He also donated meals prepared to Virtue to shelters. The challenge of doing charitable work forced Williams to shut down Virtue in the meantime. Kitchen space is limited and hiring workers has been an industry-wide struggle. Virtue has hummed in recent months with the reopening of the restaurant patio by Williams.
So Williams and Rocky Gupta, who have known each other for years, chatted and came to an agreement: Williams took over the Chef Luciano space. At the end of October, he will be opening a new take-out restaurant called Mustard Seed Kitchen. Williams says he’s three weeks away from making his official debut.
Williams wants to continue Chef Luciano’s mission of providing quality, affordable meals, delivering what he describes as everyday meals. Patrons will find salads, sandwiches, burgers, and about a half-dozen entrees that include salmon, tilapia, skirt steaks, and roast chicken. They will have fries for the burgers, but also a lot of choices of rice and vegetables. As Chef Luciano has done before, they will also serve pasta. It will be gluten free, but not made from scratch. âI’m not trying to cook this thing,â Williams says.
âNot everyone wants a sit-down dinner,â says Williams, especially during the pandemic, when customers still aren’t 100% comfortable with dining at a restaurant.
Prior to Virtue, Williams made a name for himself at MK The Restaurant, working with Chef Michael Kornick (co-founder of DMK Restaurants). MK was a hidden fine dining restaurant in River North. At Mustard Seed, Williams will be serving dishes like sautÃ©ed spinach and pasta with âdelicious red sauceâ – the type of food Williams cooks at home after a night’s work.
Williams says his faith drove the restaurant’s name; several Bible verses mention mustard seeds. For Williams, mustard seeds are tiny, yet powerful, and capable of the impact he wishes to have. Another connection to the name did not come immediately to Williams – mustard seeds also play an important role in Indian cuisine. Occasionally, David Gupta used Indian seasonings and spices in Chef Luciano’s kitchen. His son sees it as a kind of reminder to his family’s restaurant. Young Gupta also jokes, saying his father had tried for years to get him to apply mustard seed oil to his head thinking it would stimulate hair growth.
Naming aside, Rocky Gupta says he trusts Williams to serve Chef Luciano’s loyal customers.
âI didn’t want to go back in one, three, or five years and see it was an apartment complex,â Gupta says.
Mustard Seed Kitchen, 49 E. Cermak Road, scheduled to open in late October.