We love sandwiches. And we’ve eaten many, from great deli sandwiches (Chicago, like Manny’s, Bari, and Riviera) to Philly cheese steaks, Pittsburgh hoagies, southern barbecue, New Orleans muffulettas & po boys, New England lobster rolls & fried clam rolls, just about anything from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, French baguette bar sandwiches, Israeli shawarmas, al pastor tacos, and weird, weird restaurant concoctions. Long ago, with dead space at the front of a catering kitchen, we thought we’d try a twist on the traditional sandwich shop. And figuring that it would be a deli (a thought that barely survived the first week), we choose the outstanding deli name of “Jerry’s”, although it was really an homage to only the greatest guitar player of all time – Jerome John Garcia.
Jerry’s offers a Bumsteadian lineup of well over 100 sandwiches, including named creations, warm sandwiches, burgers, hickory-smoked stuff, and rotating collection of specials. In addition, customers can create their own sandwiches by choosing from among our over one hundred breads, fillings, cheeses, and sauces. And we’ve become a bar, featuring many (and only) North American craft beers, on tap and in bottle, as well as a growing collection of around 75 American whiskeys. Rounding out the excess, Jerry’s offers some fine music from a digital database of tens of thousands of songs, that is when we’re not offering live music at Wicker Park.
Mindy Friedler, Mark Bires and Uriah Hose opened the original Jerry’s on Madison Street in 2002 at the front of a catering kitchen. With the rent paid and the former West Loop skid row neighborhood gentrifying, a whimsical idea was formed to open an edgy sandwich shop serving ersatz restaurant entrees, obscure regional stuff, and basically anything else on bread, and calling it a sandwich. In a nutshell, the idea was that if you’ve got pot roast, bread, and some Louisiana hot sauce, you’ve got yourself a heck of a sandwich.
Mark was a catering chef and ne’er do well U. of Chicago graduate and Mindy a lawyer hoodwinked into helping out on the first day. Mark and Mindy were married at the time, and still are to this day despite Mindy’s annoying habit of questioning Mark’s innovative and trendsetting ideas. Uriah, an escapee from the Israeli army, was a sous chef at a French restaurant in Hyde Park.
That original incarnation of Jerry’s had only 5 stools at the front window, but by the end of the first day the office table and chairs had been commandeered and in short order storage space was demolished to make room for more seating. Present day Jerry’s in Wicker Park now seats approximately 130 indoors and another 60 outdoors. Jerry’s Andersonville 100 something indoors and another 100 something outdoors. And, what was once a much more limited menu has evolved into the beast that it is today, confounding poor suckers who just wander in for a ham and cheese but delighting, or so we imagine, the hordes of Jerry fans who make some of the most interesting and abhorrent combinations known to man. Mark had the genius to add around 200 American craft beers to the Wicker Park menu thereby possibly inventing the idea of a sandwich and a beer. No Nobel Prize nominations have been forthcoming.
While original Jerry’s is dear and departed, there is now a Wicker Park Jerry’s and an Andersonville Jerry’s. Are they the same? Are we McDonald’s? (plus both managers are a might peculiar so expect the unexpected). And we’ve still got things up our sleeve. It’s a work in progress.