Snowstorm Didn’t Deter Bad Apple Owner From Staying in Chicago
By Patrick Butler
For the past eight years, the Bad Apple restaurant/bar has been going strong at 4300 N. Lincoln Ave., site of the old Heidelberger Fass.
Craig Fass – no connection to the fabled German restaurant – didn’t plan it that way.
In fact, the New Jersey native was on his way to Los Angeles 16 years ago looking for a job as a cook when he stopped off in the Windy City just to check things out after he’d heard the weather was nice.
Although he arrived in the middle of a snowstorm, Fass “fell in love with the city” so fast that three hours after he landed, he cancelled the rest of his flight to LA.
Since coming here, Fass has opened the Menangerie and later Cooper’s Eatery, both on Belmont Avenue, before taking over the vacant Heidelberger Fass with the help of then 47th Ward Ald. Gene Schulter, “who I guess thought we’d be a good fit.”
So what makes the Bad Apple different from the many other pubs, bars, saloons and eateries dotting Lincoln Avenue these days?
For one thing, “we’re here. I still work the line in the kitchen. I’m a grunt. Very hands on.
“We know the farmers. We know where we’re getting our food” at a time when more and more customers seem to be asking questions about the food, where it comes from and how it’s prepared,” he said.
“And because I’m a hippie,” he said the Bad Apple recycles in a big way. “We donate all our used grease for soap, things like that. Since the mid-1980s I’ve recognized the need to so something about climate change.”
Fass said he travels a lot gathering ingredients and new ideas in some of his favorite cities like New Orleans, Florence, Italy, and Seville, Spain and “recently talked to a guy from Sweden who said hey don’t need to speculate on whether global warming is real – not when you can swim to Russia in waters that used to be frozen over not too many years ago.”
Fass believes part of the secret of his success at a time when the life expectancy for Chicago area restaurants is worse than the mortality rate in many Third World countries lies with keeping good workers.
“This isn’t just for me, it’s for us,” Fass said of his 30 full-time employees who he said all get profit sharing and very competitive wages.
The average worker stays four or five years, he added, noting that the first thing he looks at on an applicant’s resume is how long he or she was at his previous jobs.
“If I see three jobs in a year, it means you can’t work with any chef, or they don’t want to work with you. That’s where the conversation ends. I’m not going to waste my time.”
In addition to constantly looking for ways to improve the menu and attract talented employees, Fass said he’s always on the lookout for ways to get the kids to take a deep bite into the Bad Apple.
“I’m thinking about the next generation. The 12-year-olds who are going to be coming in her for their first date or their first beer in a few years,” Fass said.
“We want that to be here.”