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Chef Matthias Merges Says He Has No Hard Feelings Over Restaurant Dispute

By Sam Cholke | January 7, 2014 8:53am

HYDE PARK — Chef Matthias Merges said there are no hard feelings after a dispute between his University of Chicago landlord and neighbors delayed his restaurant opening by eight months.

"The issue was not really with us but with how the University of Chicago was handling things,” Merges said Monday. “We’ve always proven we’re good neighbors.”

Merges planned to open the second location for his Logan Square restaurant Yusho in February at 1301 E. 53rd St., but was delayed when he discovered that alcohol sales were banned on the block and neighbors did not want to change it.

The University of Chicago narrowly gathered enough signatures from neighbors to overturn the ban, but was then faced with a lawsuit from neighbors who claimed the university botched the process.

Neighbors dropped their lawsuit last month, clearing the way for Merges to open Yusho by late summer.

“It’s great to have a community that cares and is involved,” Merges said.

During the downtime, Merges in November opened another restaurant in Hyde Park, A10, which he said has garnered a loyal clientele.

“It’s definitely been quite a surprise the amount of business we’ve gotten,” he said.

Merges said the time for reflection has prompted a few changes for the Japanese cuisine.

“We plan to do five to six different noodle soups,” he said, adding that he also plans a selection of steamed buns and vegetarian dishes.

He said his team has hung with him through the delay — largely because they currently work at his other restaurants, Billy Sunday, A10 and Yusho in Logan Square.

“We always promote from within, unless we cannot,” Merges said of the team that will lead the kitchen and hire the wait staff.

He said the time has given him a chance to focus sourcing more of the restaurant’s supplies locally and how to better hire within the neighborhood. He said 80 percent of his staff at A10 is from Hyde Park and nearby neighborhoods, and he’s been able to find suppliers for linens and other services within the city.

“We try to make sure we’re very cognizant of helping the community,” Merges said.