"I love getting asked," said Tao, 43. "It is nice to hear their excitement, but it's frustrating not to have an answer for them."
Although Tao had hoped Community would have opened this summer, delays in getting city permits and an overextended contractor have slowed the transformation of 4038 N. Milwaukee Ave. from four bare walls into what Tao hopes will be a warm, inviting, upscale tavern.
"It is 95 percent done," said Tao, an Old Irving Park resident and the owner of The Portage Restaurant. "We're really excited to show people what we've done."
Heather Cherone says it'll be a big addition to the neighborhood:
While Community will be the fourth or fifth restaurant Tao has opened, it is the first he has built from scratch — and maybe his last.
"I'm starting to understand why so many people want to take over restaurants that are already open," Tao said, laughing. "But I really wanted to create my own vision and vibe."
Community will feature upscale, classic American food with French influences and a relaxed atmosphere, said chef Joey Beato, who will oversee the kitchens at Community and the Portage, which has become an institution in a neighborhood with very few trendy restaurants catering to upper middle-class residents.
"It will be stuff I like to eat," Beato said.
Some entrees will be big enough to share, while others will be designed to be shared among groups of friends and relatives.
"It is fun to eat that way," Beato said.
Tao and Beato promise the restaurant's "elegant" and "elevated" food would fit right into any Downtown eatery.
"We want to take the neighborhood up a couple of notches," Tao said, adding that Community will be free of "pretension" with a welcoming feeling.
Community is slated to be the sixth restaurant to open its doors near Irving Park Road and Milwaukee and Cicero avenues in 2014, the culmination of a years-long effort to breathe new life into what was once the city's premier shopping destination outside the Loop.
Community's chance of success has been bolstered by the return of the Portage Theater, which reopened in May and has drawn big crowds to several different kinds of shows, including concerts and movie premieres, Tao said.
"The energy that the theater creates is infectious," Tao said. "It makes the whole area livelier, and gives everyone a lift."
Marc Sussman, the owner of the renovated 81-year-old Klee building across the street from Community, said the restaurant's opening was an important part of the area's resurgence.
"People will be able to grab a bite before a show or a drink after," Sussman said. "It will keep people here. They won't just disappear."
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