Much to the chagrin of countless diners, SoHo Chicken + Whiskey
(1899 W. 25th St., 216-298-9090) has been shut tight since March 15, when the Governor ordered all restaurants to close their doors to dine-in customers. Unlike countless other eateries, this one did not pivot to carry-out and delivery business because doing so did not feel right to chef and owner Nolan Konkoski.
“For us, it felt like it had never been part of our identity as far as what we have been doing on a daily basis for years, so to shift it to that felt desperate – and we didn’t feel desperate at that point,” he explains.
But a crisis, as we know, often yields opportunity, and that’s precisely how Konkoski and partner Molly Smith looked at the situation.
“We were actually planning a second, more casual biscuit concept that would have been more breakfast and lunch focused, so we're trying to view the current challenge as sort of a way to introduce that,” says Konkoski. “There would be a Southern spin to both, but there would be an obvious difference in what one does versus the other.”
The original plan called for opening the second concept at a different location or at the current location in Ohio City following the construction of a small addition in the rear that would allow the new business to piggyback off the existing kitchen, restrooms and liquor license. Now, the plan is to roll out the new concept in the existing space alongside a modified Soho format and menu.
“We kind of look at this as an opportunity to do what we do at Soho, while we interject some of what we were planning on doing, and kind of fusing the two and fine-tuning over the next several months and seeing what the response is,” Konkoski notes.
The month of May will be used for menu planning and light construction, which will facilitate the transition of Soho from a full-service restaurant to a fast-casual one. The bar will be converted to a counter with menu board, order and pick-up stations. Tables, albeit fewer of them, will be located inside and out for dine-in business if and when that is reintroduced.
The menu will evolve from Southern-styled breakfast tacos and biscuit sandwiches in the morning to fried chicken, chicken sandwiches and a streamlined bar menu come lunchtime.
“A smaller, more concise, more easily executed menu of a bunch of favorites from Soho, but also some new variations on that kind of stuff,” the chef explains.
For now, the tentative reopen date will be in early June, but that is subject to change and to the state of Ohio.
“It’s weird and it’s kind of crazy and it’s kind of scary, but it’s also fun to get creative,” says Konkoski. “We’ve been thinking about doing something like this, so to actually execute it is a neat opportunity and our employees are excited about doing something new.”
But the chef stresses that this next phase – call it Soho 3.0 – is temporary. Down the road, the plan is to spin off the breakfast and lunch concept and return Soho to its normal function as a full-service, finer-dining restaurant.
“That’s what we do, that’s what we do best and that’s where our passion is,” Konkoski says. “To not do that would be really, really odd for us. We have put so much into turning that restaurant into what it is that to never go back to that would be really sad for us.”