Catching Up with Michael Muser

In June, Chicago-based chef Curtis Duffy and restaurateur Michael Muser practically broke the internet with the news of their latest restaurant project, Ever, to open in the West Loop in spring of 2020. After all, it’s hard not to produce a serious wave when it comes to news of one of the most highly-anticipated restaurant openings not only in the United States, but in the world.

“Since the announcement of Ever, the support shown by our peers and the media has been extremely positive—it’s truly humbling,” Muser says, noting that the camaraderie shared among the local f&b scene is one that is unrivaled. “Throughout the process of bringing Ever to life, that community has never left our side, not for one minute. Time and time again, we have needed help, support, advice, a kitchen to prep in and the answer has been yes every time—that’s Chicago! We feel a huge amount of responsibility to do right by them, our peers, by being the absolute best we can be, by creating something truly world class, truly unique; something that shows the world what we are capable of achieving here in Chicago.”

Muser and Duffy made continual headlines last year when three-MICHELIN-starred Grace’s restaurant investor, Michael Olszewski, fired Muser in the fall of 2017, leaving Duffy no choice but to leave shortly after, and thus sparking a massive exodus of kitchen staff one day later, sealing the fate of the progressive restaurant. The Chicago Sun-Times also reported that Duffy was legally prohibited from starting another restaurant in the Chicago area until mid-2019.

And so, here we are. Keeping things under wraps for such a length of time was “unbearable,” according to Muser. “I hate keeping secrets and, the further along we got in the design process, the more Ever took form on paper, the harder it got to [contain] my excitement and desire to share it with everyone,” he says. “It feels so good to talk about Ever, to have a logo and soon a dining room and kitchen befitting Curtis’s amazing ability to express himself.”

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Ever’s design is currently near completion, with plans being sent to the City of Chicago for approval; construction will begin in the coming weeks. Like all restaurant concepts—especially one of this caliber—there have been a number of challenges to face.

“The box is only so big, [6,000 square feet], and you have to fit every idea, every emotion, every impactful moment inside of it,” says Muser. “You must think of every single move the guests make once they enter our world. You have to see the experience through their point of view and design ways to care for them and anticipate their wants and needs.” He even likens the restaurant experience to that of a ballet or theater performance. “At Ever, when a staff member appears from nowhere and places a shawl over the shoulders of a guest who showed the most minuscule sign of being cold in the dining room, that’s not magic, it’s designed. Just as we think of every move the guest will make, we also must think of every single step the staff will make. The service pattern at Ever is a beehive of activity, a small army of captains, backwaiters, runners, sommeliers, all moving in rhythm . . . and here’s the best part: the guest sets the cadence, not us. If the guest goes fast, so do we; if the guest goes slow, we go slow. If the guest gets up from the table, we stop until they return. The physical design of Ever must meet the needs of the staff perfectly so they can achieve these service standards."

Ever will have between 40 and 50 staff members, and due to the nature of keeping things fresh and seasonal, menu development will not begin until six to eight weeks prior to opening. The duo hopes that the end result—the menu, the staff, the space—will be their best restaurant to date. Ever.

“Great restaurants are great because of the people who work inside them,” Muser adds. “We see service as a noble craft, an art form, one worthy enough to dedicate our lives to. And if you are going to work at Ever, this has to be your mindset as well. What excites us is creating standards to the highest degree—for ourselves and for our staff—and then living by those standards and never waivering from them, not even for a second. We live for our guests and consider any request they have an opportunity to show them how much we care about them, how much we appreciate that they chose us to have that special night, that anniversary or that über important business dinner. When you have succeeded in creating this environment, it’s truly special and rarely duplicated, because you can’t fake it. I can’t wait to have our team fully assembled and show what people are capable of."

Hero image by Michael Muser.

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