Calumet Fisheries on Southeast Side reopens after extensive damage from fire in November

A mother and son driving from south suburban Frankfort. An Englewood man arriving on his maroon Harley Davidson motorcycle. A bicyclist pedaling for over an hour from Lincoln Square.

Calumet Fisheries, the beloved Southeast Side restaurant that had been closed for weeks after a fire caused extensive damage in November, lured seafood fans from far and wide across the Chicago area as the James Beard award-winning eatery reopened its doors Saturday morning.

“It’s part of the history of Chicago,” Tom McCarthy, 61, said of the restaurant, 3259 E. 95th St. “It’s a legend.”

McCarthy started ordering from the restaurant about four years ago after his family recommended it. He passes by every time he takes his bike route from Lincoln Square.

As a small group of bikers passed shortly before the restaurant reopened, one biker let out an emphatic “Woo-hoo!” as he learned from a customer that the restaurant would be reopening. The faint smell of burnt wood filled the air as smoke floated from a nearby smoker.

A handful of customers had lined up almost an hour before the 9 a.m. reopening time, and a steady stream flowed in and out of the restaurant after the doors opened.

Eva Aseves smiles at staff as she holds bags of her orders on the reopening day of Calumet Fisheries in the Southeast Side, Saturday, June 8, 2024.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“It’s been a struggle, but you guys have been phenomenal,” co-owner Mark Kotlick told customers minutes before the restaurant opened.

Among the waiting customers were Jody and Thomas Healy, a mother and son who drove from Frankfort to enjoy a morning meal of fried shrimp with hot and mild sauces on the bed of their pickup truck.

“It’s good to be back,” Thomas Healy, 29, said after taking his first bite of food from the restaurant in nearly a year.

Jody Healy, 63, has come to the restaurant for at least 40 years and often went to the beach with her parents to enjoy the food.

“It was the best growing up,” Jody Healy said.

Jody and Thomas Healy of Frankfort enjoy their orders of shrimp Saturday morning on the bed of their pickup truck outside Calumet Fisheries.

Mohammad Samra/Sun-Times

Angelo Evans was one of a handful of customers to approach the restaurant before doors officially reopened. He arrived on his maroon Harley Davidson motorcycle as slow-tempo music blared from his speaker system.

Evans said he struggled to find good smoked fish while the restaurant was closed for renovations after an electrical fire in November caused significant damage to the one-story wooden building.

“I wanted to get here [early] and get my fish,” Evans, 67, said.

As the restaurant took orders for the first time in months, Kotlick greeted customers as he walked back and forth between the kitchen and ordering area.

After the fire, Calumet Fisheries now has a “completely redone interior,” with a new menu board and open kitchen.

Customers line up to order on Saturday at Calumet Fisheries on the Southeast Side on its reopening day after a fire in November.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I think everybody here, and myself included, were kind of nervous [for the reopening,]” Kotlick, 69, said. “We’ve been doing this for 76 years but this is a brand-new place, and we’re not used to things where they are and all the new modern equipment.”

The restaurant has been ready for a few weeks but was waiting on the health department’s approval, which it received Thursday.

Kotlick told the Sun-Times he expects the restaurant to be running at 100% in about a month.

“I’m missing a deli case that got destroyed in transit and getting some other things in, but we’re used to this,” Kotlick told the Sun-Times. “We’ll survive.”

Calumet Fisheries plans to do a grand opening with discounted food, shirt giveaways and other festivities — likely in July or August.

Kotlick feels the restaurant “shrunk a little” due to building code upgrade requirements, but was able to bring back key employees and is looking forward to serving new and returning customers.

“As you can see, the customers are just really fantastic,” Kotlick said. “We’ve got a big customer base, many generations of customers.”

John Tabares pours sauce on fried fish on Saturday at Calumet Fisheries on the Southeast Side. He said he has been buying from Calumet Fisheries since he was about 6 years old.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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