Downtown Rogersville’s newest dining experience recently opened its doors and is ready for customers.
The product of a friendship and a collective dream, Taste of Chicago offers authentic Chicago-style cuisine in a casual, grab-and-go atmosphere.
Diners will likely first meet Jonathan Hentrix, who serves as the operations manager and runs the “front of the house,” Joey Bucio is the restaurant’s chef and menu creator, and Cody Fobber is the investor and business manager. All three are also part-owners, but Hendrix and Bucio run the restaurant full-time.
Though Fobber and Hendrix are native East Tennesseans, chef Bucio was born and raised in Chicago.
The restaurant has actually been open since July 1, but the official grand opening and ribbon cutting with the Rogersville/Hawkins County Chamber of Commerce took place on Sept. 11.
The restaurant is located at 114 E Main Street in the former Sweet Tooth Café location and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“A piece of my home was missing”
Fobber told the Review that the idea for the restaurant was formed out of a friendship between the three entrepreneurs. The specific Chicago theme, though, was the brainchild of Chicago native Bucio.
“I met Jonathan when he was working for me in my construction company,” Fobber said. “It was through Jonathan that I met Joey, as he and Joey had been big buddies for around two years. As we got to talking, we formed the idea together of opening this restaurant. We just honed our ideas together into what Taste of Chicago is now.”
Bucio was born and raised in the Portage Park area of Chicago, which is on the Northwest side of the city. He moved to Rogersville to assist his parents, who had recently moved to the area.
“I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years, and cooking is what I love doing most,” Bucio said. “There was just something missing down here in Rogersville, and I soon realized that it was a piece of my home that was missing. So, I decided to bring a little piece of home with me here.”
Bucio also invites customers to contribute to the feeling of ‘home.’
“If the customers have any type of Chicago memorabilia they would like to donate, I have a hallway that is meant for the customers to hang up pictures on,” he said. “Their name goes on a list, they become a lifetime member with us, and they get a 5% discount with us for the lifetime that we’re open. I want to be part of the crowd and just have a little fun with it.”
COVID-19 puts business on hold
Like every business, Fobber noted that COVID-19 has put a damper on the restaurant in numerous ways.
“The idea originated back in February before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fobber told the Review. “That actually delayed the opening. I would have been ready with the kitchen equipment to open around the first of March. COVID-19 struck right about that time, so it really put a damper on things. Really, we were just sitting there waiting for a while for the go-ahead to open up.”
The trio actually tossed around several other restaurant-related ideas before settling on Taste of Chicago.
“We bounced back and forth several different ideas from a food truck to a fine-dining restaurant,” he said. “Then, we just kind-of landed somewhere in the middle doing a quick takeout, lunch-style, grab-and-go restaurant that Taste of Chicago is.”
Though Fobber noted that visitors can dine in to enjoy the food, they also offer these quick, take-out options.
Unlike a fine-dining restaurant, Taste of Chicago has no wait staff. Visitors place their order at the counter and can choose a drink from the nearby cooler. After a few minutes, the food is brought to the counter.
“You can take it back to your seat, or even go out the door with it,” Fobber said. “Even the drinks are bottled, so everything travels well.”
They also hope to soon offer Chicago-style deep dish pizzas as well as delivery options.
The food that says ‘home’
“Everything there is fresh,” Fobber told the Review. “We don’t have anything come in frozen, and we season everything ourselves. Our bread is baked fresh every, and our vegetables and meat are all bought locally. Pretty much every flavor that you get is something we have created.”
They even hand-make a special menu item that they call ‘mozzarella onion rings,’ which are traditional onion rings stuffed with mozzarella cheese.
Fobber also told the Review that the restaurant uses Vienna brand Italian beef, which is the same brand used by Chicago-based restaurants.
Many of the menu items are quite meaningful to menu creator Bucio.
“The Chicago-style hotdog is home no matter what,” he said. “You come to any Chicago-style restaurant, and the Chicago dog is the go-to. They’ve been making that hotdog since the 1800’s there, and it’s been done right since then. The Italian beef has also been around in Chicago for many years as well. Those are two sandwiches that say ‘home.’”
Fobber told the Review that the restaurant has received only positive feedback so far.
“Everybody has really liked the food,” he said. “We’ve been asking around, and we haven’t had a single complaint on food quality. Everyone seems to like our prices, too, because our prices are—by quantity—the best in Rogersville. We try to stay as low as possible and still be able to make money.”
“It’s been a big hit with the crowd so far, and I couldn’t be happier,” Bucio said. “All three of us are pushing as hard as we can for the crowd, so everyone can come in and enjoy what this is. We’re especially excited to bring something to downtown. I love being down here, and I want to give them a reason to come downtown again.”
It began as a friendship
The impetus behind the Chicago theme, Bucio moved to Tennessee to assist his retired parents.
“My parents came down here to retire and actually didn’t retire—they became foster parents instead,” he said. “They eventually wound up adopting. My dad later came down with bad arthritis and needed a hand doing property upgrades and things like that. Me being a chef, it’s easy for me to pick up my knives and work in any kitchen. When I came down here, I fell in love with what it was like here—the peacefulness, the realness of people and how nice everyone is. You can’t get what this is here back in Chicago. It was a change, but, in the long run, it was worth it.”
Bucio was trained under Chef Chris Nugent, who is the chef and owner of Goosefoot, a fine dining restaurant located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.
“He taught me the respect and love for food,” Bucio said. “I have been cooking professionally since I was 13.”
His first cooking job was actually at a restaurant called Toot’s Drive Thru.
“Ever since then, I have never stopped working in the industry,” he said. “There’s just something about the charm about it. I’ve stuck with it my whole life, and I’ve learned all the aspects of the industry, from bartending, being a bouncer and being a dishwasher. You name it, I’ve done it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Fobber was born and raised in Rogersville and is known around the community for his entrepreneurship. He became the new owner of the Crye-Leike of Rogersville Realty Group in March of 2018. He ran a sole proprietor renovation and repair business for several years. Fobber later received his general contractor’s license and opened Fobber Construction Industries, which builds new constructions. He also owns several rental properties in the area and runs a small appliance repair business as a hobby.
Though most of Fobber’s business interests are quite different than the restaurant business, Fobber told the Review that he’s always “been interested in the idea of owning a restaurant.”
In fact, he got his first taste of the restaurant business by owning a hotdog cart a few years ago.
“I always like to diversify,” he said. “I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket, and I also believe in investing in people. That’s where Jonathan and Joey come in. I like working in the kitchen whenever I am around and have time, but I am more invested in those two than I am the actual restaurant. Joey is passionate about food and what comes out of the kitchen. He wants everything to be right, and it is the same way with Jonathan. They’re both in it to win it, and I am investing in their mindset towards that more so than the brick-and-mortar building.”
Bucio and Hendrix actually worked together at the former Blue Ridge Package store before starting Taste of Chicago.
“Part of what sold me on [Bucio and Hendrix] is that they’re both approachable, personable and friendly,” Fobber said. “People like to talk to them.”
Bucio told the Review that after the three had bounced ideas around about a restaurant for a while, Fobber asked Bucio for a tasting of his Chicago cooking.
“I actually set up a stage at his (Fobber’s) house, and I cooked for him, his parents, Jonathan and a few other people,” he said. “The tasting went very well, and it’s how we got to be where we are today.”
For more information on Taste of Chicago, visit their website at https://www.restaurantji.com/tn/rogersville/taste-of-chicago-/.