ELMHURST – Lee Varon, who formerly owned The Squared Circle in Lincoln Park, has owned Chow for about six months and just opened a cafe, Monster Eats, about a month ago.
With “close calls” at the now-closed restaurant, Varon said he wanted to work more daytime hours in a place where staff would be less likely to encounter crime.
Elmhurst was a good match with a better work-life balance and “definitely lower crime,” he said.
Monster Eats, which opened Oct. 10, offers an “outside of the box” take on traditional items, Varon said. For example, Korean barbecue turkey meatloaf is one of the cafe’s better sellers, he said. Meat for the sliders, which are made from a blend of Angus beef, bison and short rib, is ground and blended in-house every day, he said.
He chose the monster theme because he wanted to do something different, and his sister, who is an artist, created the logo for the cafe.
Varon said he has been in the food industry for more than 30 years. He started out at a Brown’s Chicken, where he learned the value of ingredients and how to work in a commercial kitchen.
“I’ve always been cooking,” he said.
Eddie Carrera, a 23-year-old chef on staff at the establishment, said he started cooking for restaurants when he was 18.
“I’ve always loved the kitchen,” he said.
His cooking career already has taken him to Mexico City, where he helped a man open an American-themed restaurant, and on a road trip to New York and Washington, D.C., in which he explored different culinary themes, such as Ethiopian food.
At Monster Eats, he and Varon are working on a macaroni and cheese burger with American cheese, jalapeno, bacon and a waffle-macaroni-and-cheese bun.
He said he tries different buns and unique sauces and learns how to make flavors work together. Carrera also tries to make food look presentable, going “the extra 10 seconds” to garnish a dish.
“People eat with their eyes first,” Carrera said.
Varon took over Chow about six months ago when Mary Corlett, who started the catering company, retired. Chow focuses on upscale catering for business events and weddings.