At the height of his game, Chef Jason Vincent stepped away from the restaurant business. Two years later, his Chicago return is one of the summer's most exciting restaurant openings.
Jason Vincent’s checklist was turning up a whole lot of X’s. Move to Boston?
“I hate the Red Sox.”
The Big Apple?
“ I don’t want to live in New York.”
Washington, D.C., Wisconsin, big market, small market. Vincent’s pros and cons chart was starting to resemble an English major’s marked-up calculus test. “It was an alarming amount of no, no, no, no, no,” he says.
It had been more than two years since Vincent pulled off the culinary equivalent of Barry Sanders hanging it up before the 1998 NFL season.
At the top of his game in 2014, Vincent, a Food & Wine Best New Chef and a James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes semifinalist, decided to step away and spend time with his family.
As that sabbatical drew to a close, Vincent naturally struggled with the details of what came next. The strife led to some clarity, however.
“When you boiled it down, the only answer left was OK, I’m going to open my own restaurant and do it my way,” Vincent says.
In early July, Vincent opened Giant in Chicago’s Logan Square with partners Ben Lustbader and Josh Perlman. Lustbader cooked with Vincent at Lula Café and Nightwood—the now-shuttered concept where Vincent garnered national acclaim. Perlman, hailing from the renowned avec, is the concept’s front-of-house guru. And for all the careful and painstaking planning, it’s really the spontaneity and pliability of Giant that has made it special.
The 1,400-square-foot restaurant seats only 40 guests, but has covered 147 on its busiest night, and is one of those Windy City restaurants where walk-ins shouldn’t even approach the door until after 9 p.m.
A reasonable bystander then might ask about the size, or lack thereof. Even with two years outside the business, Vincent’s resume could have been scribbled with crayon on loose-leaf paper and still gripped investor attention. Yet during that hiatus, Vincent says he observed the industry from a renewed perspective. The experience left him feeling like a jaded musician whose band sold out.