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Wishbone ‘pops up’ in Berwyn again ... for a time

Published: Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 12:31 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:58 p.m. CST

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BERWYN – For those who go into a catatonic state just thinking about a bowl of shrimp and grits, your “Wish” has come true.

Chef Joel Nickson has returned to Berwyn, bringing his Wishbone Restaurant to the restaurant portion of the Olive or Twist Martini Bar, 6908 Windsor Ave., in Berwyn’s historical Depot District.

Nickson said Wishbone is returning sort of like a “pop up” restaurant with options. A “pop up” generally means when a celebrity chef comes into a space, either a real restaurant or space transformed into a restaurant, for a limited time – for a week or months. After that time, they leave and someone else rotates into that space.

“I’m not pretending to be the celebrity chef or anything,” Nickson said. “It’s just a way of people trying something different. There’s not the heavy commitment of a lease or a build out.”

Nickson said he expects to open to the public on Dec. 5. At the end of March, Nickson and Oliver or Twist owner Marty Mendocino will re-evaluate the arrangement and decide whether Wishbone is there to stay.

Nickson first opened Wishbone with his brother at 3300 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago in June 1990. A second Wishbone location opened in 1992 at 1001 W. Washington Blvd. in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. His brother now runs the north side location. In 2006, Nickson joined forces with FitzGerald’s at 6615 Roosevelt Road, and opened another restaurant. It closed in March 2011.

“We did the catering,” Nickson said. “They’re nice people, but on a business level it didn’t make sense to stay there.”

The arrangement was that Wishbone would do the cooking and FitzGerald’s would do the pouring – where the real money lies in the business. Nickson admits he is in a similar situation with Olive or Twist, but adds the arrangement is more profitable for him this time around.

“I didn’t want to enter into a situation where they did the bar and we would do the food,” Nickson said. “We decided to do a Pop Up. It’s hard when you don’t have the bar side of things, but [bar owner Marty Mendocino] is working with us.”

And Nickson would like to stay in the town he has come to like. He’s a city restaurant guy, and the Depot District has a city vibe. He also believes there is already a customer base for his menu.

“We’re a Southern-styled restaurant, but we don’t want to be pigeon-holed into being a Cajun restaurant,” he said. “As a result, I think people like us. We get a lot of vegetarians, too. There is the healthy side of Wishbone; on the other side you get smothered pork chops.”

The menu will also include Wishbone favorites like buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and grits, blackened catfish and North Carolina-style smoked pulled pork and brisket. Like its Chicago location, Wishbone in Berwyn will offer catering for weddings, office drop offs and backyard BBQs, too.

Nickson said he was glad to have kept his contacts with members of the Berwyn Development Corporation from his first foray into Berwyn.

“I think the BDC does a really good job,” he said. “They are very business friendly and very aggressive in their marketing. It could be a great area, the Depot District.”

BDC Executive Director Anthony Griffin said they have heard a lot from disappointed residents when Wishbone left the community in 2011.

“And we’ve had a lot of input from the community that they can’t wait for him to get back,” Griffin said. “Joel and his team are such a quality operation and it was sad to see him leave Berwyn. We’ve talked on and off about finding another opportunity for him.”

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