Huge Latin food concept Latinicity set to open Nov. 5 in the Loop

SHARE Huge Latin food concept Latinicity set to open Nov. 5 in the Loop
SHARE Huge Latin food concept Latinicity set to open Nov. 5 in the Loop

Latinicity (pronounced Latin-IS-ity) — a 20,000-square-foot Latin version of Eataly — is set to open Nov. 5 on the third floor of Block 37, what’s been Chicago’s Bermuda Triangle of jinxed real estate, across from Macy’s, at 108 S. State St.

Overseen by Greg Howe, vice president of Denver-based Richard Sandoval Restaurants, it’s celebrity chef Sandoval’s biggest food marketplace, with eating “stations” that will range from a bar that’s as big as some of Sandoval’s restaurants, to a sit-down tapas restaurant, to a sushi-and-ceviche station, to a place featuring Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese stir-fry dishes.

Howe, 41, who grew up in and lives in Noblesville, Indiana, spoke with reporter Sandra Guy. A condensed transcript follows.

Question: Block 37’s previous owners had to foreclose after running out of money and is now run by CIM Group, a Los Angeles real estate company that’s building 690 apartments on top of this mall. Why did Richard Sandoval choose this site?

Answer: We see this as an iconic location just ready for rebirth. A lot of people are moving back into this area. We are partners with owner CIM Group on another project. Richard’s big thing is: There was no Latin entrant in the market of food courts. The chance to be in Chicago was perfect.

There is a lot of traffic: We hope to attract 1,500 to 2,000 people each day into the third-floor marketplace and another 500 per day to the downstairs pedway loncheria. This is the hot new thing —taking street food from what we call the pan-Latin countries of Central and South America —and putting it all in one location.

Q: What gives the space its look?

A: This is the work of Lázaro Rosa-Violán, and it’s modeled after the open-air markets of Barcelona. Richard and Lazaro went there a year and a half ago and came up with the vision. Lazaro is an award-winning designer. For him, lighting and hanging flowers are very big. It feels like you are in a plaza, in a comfortable space, kind of cozy despite its size.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Our target is locals. For this to be successful, it cannot be contingent mostly on tourists. Whether it’s 60 or 70 percent, we need to have local buy-in for this to be successful.

Q: How much has Richard Sandoval Restaurants invested?

A: It’s in the mid-seven figures. It’s a substantial investment of private funds.

Q: How many people are employed here?

A: We had 50 to 75 construction workers here, from millworkers to electricians. We will employ 120 full-time. We’re at about 80 percent of that goal, and we’ve started training.

Q: There’s also a non-food component?

A: There will be a retail boutique and retail scattered around in carts and trolleys, selling Latin-themed jewelry, wine, cheese, books, cultural items and china.

Q: Walk us through the place.

A: Tortas & Cocas: It’s the first space you walk into, with Spain as the strong influence. Cocas are the flatbread pizzas of Spain. The soft flatbread sandwiches are filled with ingredients like carne asada, braised short-ribs and wild mushrooms.

Chaufa: This food comes from the wok and represents the Chinese and Japanese influences in Peru.

Saladero Latin Grill: This is an Argentinian grill with fire-roasted and slow-cooked meats and sides like chimichurri, carmelized plantain and smoked paprika aioli.

Ensaladas: A salad station where you pick your toppings.

Sushi and Ceviche: The strong influence of the Japanese in Peru from the 1940s changed the landscape of styles and ingredients. It brings together spices and flavors like Tuna Nikkei, Ceviche Classico and Latin-inspired sushi rolls.

Mariscos: Seafood fried, steamed and chilled, along with a raw bar.

Machefe Taqueria: Design-your-own Mexican dishes.

Burguesa: Burgers, hot dogs and French fries with a Colombian influence and the famous Mexican bacon-wrapped dogs.

Coffee shop: with pastries, paletas and soft-serve ice cream, plus hot chocolate and cold drinks such as a watermelon agua fresca.

Pata Negra: Full-service tapas restaurant.

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