The owner and chef of Komo, a West Loop restaurant open Friday along Randolph Street, have known each other for years. Owner Nils Westlind first met Chef Macku Chan when Westlind was 15 and worked at a pet store in Evanston.
Chan had something hidden under his shirt and when Westlind asked about the bulge, the Chief revealed he was holding a monkey.
“I was not impressed,” says Westlind. “I had my own monkey.”
The two quickly became friends. Westlind offered Chan promotions at the pet store, and Chan returned the favor by connecting him to his restaurants, where the teen couldn’t afford to eat on his own.
Although the monkeys are no longer there, Westlind and Chan’s friendship has lasted. For the past ten years, they have been talking about opening a restaurant together. Chan was going to open Macku Sushi in Lincoln Park. His brothers are also accomplished chefs (Kaze Chan is at Sushi-san at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises). Westlind, now 36, has opened several venues including Ronero, which occupied the Komo space from 2017 to 2019, and Esco Bar, the upstairs cocktail bar, which he took over. at the end of summer.
But the pandemic has prompted Westlind to rethink its business model. It is no longer possible to cram so many customers into a crowded space. He ultimately applied the same logic to Komo: at 82 people, the capacity is lower than Ronero’s.
The West Loop offers upscale sushi restaurants like Momotaro, Makko, Omakase Yume, and Omakase Takeya. Westlind wanted his new restaurant to stand out: it presents Komo as a combination of a traditional Japanese dish (kaiseki) with omakase. Chan created a seven-course meal ($ 160) that includes chawanmushi (flavorful egg custard) and the ever popular A5 wagyu beef on a hot stone.
The menu is deliberately light, in case the guests want to go up to the Esco Bar. Westlind says staff will be happy to help guests get upstairs using the back elevator. Esco Bar, which Westlind took to rename Esco for its second iteration, initially specialized in rums. But with Chan on board, Westlind flexed to inflate the selection of Japanese whiskey.
“My clientele and Chef Macku’s clientele were looking for a more mature experience, let’s say,” Westlind says.
Maturity extends to the decor. Westlind chose a lighter color palette with more creams and pinks. There is also a Carrara marble bar, and eventually there will be a bar menu to accompany it.
Although the name Komo is a combination of kaiseki and omakase, it is also a game of ‘como’, which in Spanish means ‘I eat’, a reflection of Westlind’s love for Latin culture: although born in California, he grew up in Colombia, and Spanish is his first language.
The pandemic has been difficult for Westlind who has joined others in the industry to seek COVID-19 relief funds. Esco Bar closed in October 2020, as owners Shweta and Hital Bharwad determined their next move. They would later reopen Jaipur, a beloved Indian restaurant that was on the south side of Randolph Street and had closed in 2018, inside the old Ronero. But that was an interim measure since the restaurant’s neighbor was Rooh, a modern Indian restaurant that has been packed since its inception.
Through it all, Westlind has remained patient and is now ready to enter the world of fine dining. He even had a booth at Chicago Gourmet, the city’s big food party, to let everyone know about his new business and Chan’s.
“This restaurant is really about telling the story between Macku and myself,” he says.
Macku has remained closed at Lincoln Park, but Westlind says he is preparing for a revival and is one of the investors.
Komo, 738 W. Randolph Street, (312) 465-2250, opening Friday October 1 reservations via Tock.