Sometimes even when something isn't broken, it still might be fun-not necessarily to fix it-but to play on it a bit. Which is exactly why the owners of the iconic Jerry's Sandwiches plan to turn their Andersonville location into the new Arab/Israeli restaurant, Fiya, later this spring.
Jerry's owners, Mindy Friedler, who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and her husband, Mark Bires, the chef at Jerry's, have been running the sandwich shop since 2007-and were ready to try something new. "We do not want to be a chain restaurant," Friedler said. "We want to create and nourish things, not copy them." ( The Jerry's Lincoln Square location will remain open, as well as its "little sister" next door, Geraldine's.)
At first, they figured they could just tweak the existing Jerry's menu, but around that same time, they had begun frequently stamping "Israel" on their passport because their daughter, Mali, had made
. While visiting her, they would hunt for local cuisine in eclectic Israeli neighborhoods, and soon fell in love with the food, which was the inspiration for the new restaurant.
Actually, Friedler says, their new fare isn't a big departure from the original sandwich shop. "We thought, 'we can give this a try,'" she said. "This isn't so far from what we're doing. It's another bread-centered comfort soul food. We think this is something in our wheelhouse."
So, they hired Chef Liad Rozgovich, who is Israeli-trained, a Chicago transplant, and a recent graduate of Chicago's French Pastry School. "We come to this cuisine from an Israeli lens," Friedler said. "However, we recognize that the food is substantially derived from the cuisines of Palestine, Persia, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria."
They plan to uphold the neighborhood feel that Jerry's has always had, maintaining its role as an affordable neighborhood place that values diversity. "We envision Fiya as a neighborhood restaurant with the heart of fire and the soul of a
," Friedler said. "Fire because the restaurant will have a wood-burning oven in the center of the floor as well as a wood smoker in the kitchen. And
because we fell in love with the food and vibe of the neighborhood restaurants in and around the
in Israel," Friedler said.
"And while our primary focus will not be Ashkenazi cuisine, we may doodle some with it too," Friedler said. "It's hard to keep a good brisket down."
Rochelle Newman Rubinoff is a freelance writer living in the northern suburbs of Chicago.