The 312: From food to comedy, authentically Chicago exports

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Most people know that McDonald’s, Portillo’s and Morton’s are Chicago born and bred, but they’re not the only Chi-based businesses that have done well on the export scene.


How “Chicago” are you?

There’s a Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar in Atlanta that has taken the original Harold’s concept and paired it with a bar and a club. (It’s also proof that fried chicken, french fries and a rum and coke pair together nicely). There’s a Yusho Japanese grill and noodle house in Las Vegas (and a new one in Hyde Park). Vegas is also home to three outposts of the North Side’s famed Wieners Circle hot dog stand. And to move completely away from food, there’s a Chicago-style improv club, Boom Chicago, that’s been plugging away for 21 years now in Amsterdam.

But let’s talk about the new wave of food first.

“I think, over the past year, the consumer in a broad scope is more savvy about food and restaurants and service than ever before,” says Matthias Merges, owner of Yusho, a Yakatori-inspired restaurant that opened a location in Hyde Park this year and another in Las Vegas. “There’s a lot happening in Chicago. It’s a very relevant food city — the most dynamic food city in the country right now.”

Outside the city, Chicago-style restaurants are all the rage.


Wieners Circle Opens in Vegas

Yusho opens in Hyde Park

Yusho opens in Las Vegas

“Las Vegas has a lot of Chicago transplants,” says Barry Nemerow, owner of The Wieners Circle. He’s also planning for a Los Angeles opening in late winter or early spring. “They kind of like their old hot dog stands growing up, and they get used to it. Plus, new people are willing to try something new. The word of mouth gets around. We’re happy with how it’s worked out.”

But food isn’t the only export. Andrew Moskos and two friends opened Boom Chicago nearly 21 years ago in Amsterdam. Moskos, the son of famed Northwestern University professor Charles Moskos (who wrote the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy) was told that Chicago-style improv wouldn’t work overseas. But it did.

A number of well-known comedians trained there, including Seth Meyers, Key and Peele (who met each other via a Boom Chicago experience) and Jason Sudeikis.

“It’s 100 percent Chicago,” says Moskos, now 46. “We should be very proud. There’s always been great, exciting creativity coming out of Chicago in the theater area. The improv scene of course is really special and unique, and at any moment there are [Chicago-trained improv students] who became the secret sauce behind the shows and movies. All good improv goes to these Chicago principles, which now have been transplanted to other cities.”

Holland officials once told Moskos that a Chicago-based improv club wouldn’t work in their country. But Boom Chicago has spawned TV shows in Europe.

“They wrote  a well-written two pages of facts because it was 1993 and that was the fastest way to communicate back then,” says Moskos. “They said ‘the tourists don’t want to see a show in English and the tourists don’t want a show at all.’ We saved that and framed it and came anyway. We went from scrappy outsiders to a part of the comedy institution here. We’re like the Second City of Amsterdam.”

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