When 42 Grams opened in Uptown in 2014, the tiny 18-seat restaurant quickly vaulted into the top tier of Chicago’s culinary destinations, with chef Jake Bickelhaupt earning accolade after accolade for his innovative cuisine, including a coveted two-star rating from Michelin.
The restaurant’s blazing rise into the foodie stratosphere was matched by its sudden crash Sunday, when Bickelhaupt and his business partner Alexa Welsh announced via a since-deleted Tweet that 42 Grams was closing, effective immediately.
Welsh confirmed the news Monday on Facebook, thanking guests and supporters, and looking forward to an unspecified “next adventure.”
The closing was a reminder that no restaurant, regardless of its place in the food chain, is immune to failure — even those that are by all measures successful.
Indeed, of the 40 restaurants honored by Michelin since it established a dedicated Chicago guide in 2011, a dozen have since shuttered.
The restaurant business is uncommonly brutal, with studies finding that 80 percent of ventures fail within five years. Those in rarefied Michelin territory are no exception, prey to the same financial woes, changing tastes and personality conflicts as the lowliest greasy spoon.
Burnout hit Charlie Trotter. Graham Elliot and Takashi Yagihashi were overextended. And business just plain slowed at Crofton on Wells.
If there’s a common theme to be found, it’s that Michelin restaurants are more chef-driven — whether that person’s name is on the awning or not — than their less glittering counterparts and therefore more dependent on the reputation of who’s leading the team in the kitchen.
Moto struggled to stay afloat after the death of founder Homaro Cantu; Avenues was gutted by the departure of Curtis Duffy (and the entire staff along with him); and Bonsoiree was finished when chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark called it quits.
And when the talent moves elsewhere, Michelin tends to follow.
Duffy, of course, went on to open Grace, which earned three Michelin stars. Kim and Clark are the team behind the Michelin-starred Parachute. Noah Sandoval, whose Michelin-starred Senza closed in 2015, resurfaced with Oriole in 2016 — and earned two stars.
So keep an eye out for wherever Bickelhaupt and Welsh land next.
And book a reservation, if your budget allows, at the remaining Michelin restaurants sooner than later.