CHICAGO – Proud Greek-American and Chicago native Taki Kastanis, the Founder and Owner of Yolk, Chicago’s home for brunch, spoke with The National Herald about his life and work.
Born into the restaurant business, growing up with hard-working parents who owned up to ten family-oriented eateries, Kastanis was often seen doing his homework in a booth at one of the restaurants while waiting for his parents to finish work and knew he was destined to become a restauranteur. He successfully owned and sold his first restaurant concept before he finished business school at the age of 24, prior to “hatching” the Yolk concept. Not long after the first Yolk location launched in South Loop in 2006, Yolk quickly became known and beloved by locals and tourists alike.
Now, rapidly expanding in Chicago and markets across the country and creating ultra-unique additions like the Test Kitchen, Yolk aims to deliver an experience like no other. The 9th Chicago location is set to open in Lincoln Park on April 30. Rated “Best Breakfast” by Zagat in 2008, Yolk’s menu features a balanced mix of upscale breakfast and lunch items guests would expect to find on the menu, as well as a range of deliciously innovative creations. As Kastanis shared with TNH, the Yolk experience goes far beyond what’s on the plate – bringing creativity to the kitchen.
TNH: Growing up in the restaurant business, did you always want to continue the tradition?
Takis Kastanis: As a child, absolutely. As an adult however I was drawn to the medical field. Out of high school I decided to go to medical school. About a year into it I knew I wanted to return to what I knew best and grew up in… the restaurant business. So I left medical school and went to business school instead. After business school I started my first restaurant, Grandma Sally’s. The brand was actually started my by parents but I opened my own location right out of college.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from?
TK: Sparta and Crete.
TNH: How does your Greek heritage inform your life and work?
TK: Being of Hellenic roots has had a huge impact on my life. Greeks have always been pioneers, leaders, scholars, poets, architects of democracy, great innovators, and fierce competitors and warriors. All of this is not lost on me and is something I take great pride in. Knowing that my family was born in Greece I always felt a strong connection to that heritage, history, and way of living. My parents, and my entire family really, were always the hardest workers in the room – dedicated, family-oriented and committed to making everyone welcome in their home and businesses. That left a mark on me and the way I operate my life, my family, and my business.
Brunch at Yolk. Photo: Courtesy of Yolk
TNH: What are your favorites from the menu at Yolk?
TK: My absolute favorite dish is a classic Eggs Benedict and it has now become a tradition that every Yolk I open, Eggs Benedict is my first meal. The recipe for our hollandaise sauce has been in my family for over three decades.
TNH: With locations in Illinois, Indiana, Texas, and Florida, are there plans for further expansion?
TK: Apart from growing the markets we are currently in, we are also exploring opening locations in the Boston, Nashville, and metro Detroit areas.
TNH: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in the restaurant business?
TK: Greatest lesson? Wow, that is a good question. See, the great thing about the restaurant business is that every day is a new adventure and you are always learning new things and having new experiences. Times may change but people do not. What I mean by that is that I learned early in my career that you really have to listen to your customers and treat them like you would like to be treated. To never take them for granted and to always strive to treat them like family. To me their happiness when they are dining with us means the world to me.
More information about Yolk is available online: www.eatyolk.com.
Yolk’s avocado toast with smoked salmon. Photo: Courtesy of Yolk
Nutella crepes at Yolk. Photo: Courtesy of Yolk
An “all star” breakfast with cinnamon roll French toast at Yolk. Photo: Courtesy of Yolk
Very Berry French Toast at Yolk. Photo: Courtesy of Yolk