Here’s a rare pandemic success story from the restaurant world, courtesy of Joe Frillman and his crew at Daisies, Logan Square’s family-friendly ode to noodles and all things midwestern. Two years ago, Frillman converted his restaurant to a weekend market selling produce, gourmet olive oils, kombucha, fresh pasta, and pastries from an assortment of local vendors. The move was necessitated after the spring 2020 cancellation of the Logan Square Farmers Market — organizers were worried about the initial COVID outbreak.
Frillman remembers the colorful language his distressed brother, Tim, used on the phone after the farmers market moved to cancel: “I picked all this produce and I have nowhere to take it,” Joe Frillman says, recalling his brother’s words.
As Frillman made phone calls to assemble vendors for a makeshift market, contacting parties like Boka Restaurant Group pastry chef Leigh Ominsky and Logan Square cheesemonger Beautiful Rind, he discovered many of them were facing the same predicament as his brother in needing a place to sell their perishable goods.
Meanwhile, customers were starting to loathe supermarkets which had been crowded since the state’s March 2020 indoor dining suspension. Daisies’ smaller weekend market would provide customers and vendors something to look forward to during a confusing time. Customers told Frillman they were supplying “some of the best stuff we’ve taken home.”
“We kind of created a monster,” Frillman says.
Frillman and his investors sought to retain the market’s momentum, but at 1,600 square feet and 66 seats, Daisies, 2523 N. Milwaukee Avenue — an essential Chicago restaurant — wasn’t large enough to support a full-time restaurant and a full-time market. So Frillman and company began scouting locations and found a new home a few blocks away. Early next year, the restaurant operation will move to a 5,500-square-foot space with 110 seats at the former Radler at 2375 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The new space, which has been gutted with a redesign by FC Studio (Gaijin, Owen & Engine, Reno), will also offer an all-day cafe element with an espresso bar, pastry counter, and grab-and-go items. There’s also a 30-person private dining room where Frillman wants to host charity dinners and other functions — even pasta-making classes.
There’s even a studio kitchen with cameras which opens up the possibility of using QR codes on packaging to link to videos of Frillman demonstrating recipes: “It’s going to allow us to do what we always kind of wanted to do,” he says.
Frillman isn’t abandoning the current Daisies space, which will close about a month before the new location. They’ll return remodeled around Memorial Day as a full-time grocery store and farm stand — with Frillman Farms, Mick Klug Farm, and Catalpa Grove Farm — as vendors. Lunch service, including sandwiches like the tasty wagyu French dip, will also be coming back. Frillman retains the space’s liquor license and says he foresees perhaps using the space as a cocktail lounge at night.
The market aspect holds sentimental value for Frillman who remembers working at the Deerfield Farmers Market when he was around 9. Those fond memories are what drew him to sell pasta at Green City Farmers Market in Lincoln Park and in Logan Square. With increased pasta production thanks to a larger kitchen, he’d like to sell noodles and sauces at more farmers’ markets including Deerfield and Evanston. Frillman says he’s got other ideas for expansion which is why he and his investors formed a hospitality company, Radicle Food Group: “We would be foolish to squander this opportunity,” Frillman says.
Staying in Logan Square was important to Frillman. He sees a community of chefs, led by James Beard Award-nominated chef Jason Hammel: “He’s like Yoda,” Freeman says of the Lula Cafe chef. “If I have issues, any problems, I can just reach out.”
Creating opportunities for staff remains a goal for Frillman. He speaks about how important it was to keep workers employed during the pandemic even as the state suspended indoor dining. Frillman found a niche in ramping up pasta production for both the home cook and other restaurants. That increase in business allowed him to keep long-term employees, like pasta maker Wilson Lopez, busy. Working late nights in restaurants can lead to burnout, and running a market gives employees a chance for daytime hours. In the case of Daisies’ Becca Fischer, she oversees the market. That’s also key if an industry member wants to have children. Frillman’s wife gave birth to a son four weeks before Daisies opened in 2017, Creating an atmosphere where workers can have a better work-life balance is front of mind.
With that in mind, Frillman says Daisies’ new direction is about more than a new restaurant. It’s challenging workers by exposing them to new responsibilities, and that’s his secret to improving employee retention. Daisies has 39 employees currently, and they’ll hire more workers closer to when they move: “It’s about how you get people to stay two years instead of one,” Frillman says.
Diners see the benefit in consistency. Frillman doesn’t have to devote his time to training new people coming through the door. He can spend more time developing tasty new menu items, and binding back items like cheese curds. The pandemic — supply chain and other challenges — has forced Daisies to scale down its offerings. The new space and larger kitchen will allow them to bulk back up. Daisies will also expand its drink program to 16 taps. Eight will be reserved for kombucha and sodas like root beer brewed onsite.
Frillman is flooded with ideas about the future and the chef, who worked at Balena in Lincoln Park and The Bristol in Bucktown, is excited — he talks about improving work culture and ridding the industry of toxic behaviors. And although he’s ambitious, he also doesn’t want to overcomplicate matters.
“At the end of the day it’s food,” Frillman says. “It’s not life or death. Let’s do what we can to do the best we possibly can, and to have fun.”
Daisies, 2375 N. Milwaukee Avenue, new location scheduled for a February opening; Daisies farm stand — name TBD — scheduled to open summer, 2523 N. Milwaukee Avenue.