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Duck Inn Splits & Otto Mezzo Closes, Signaling Big Changes At Rockit Ranch

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 3, 2017 3:58PM

Chef Kevin Hickey. Photo via Facebook.

Back in 2014, Chef Kevin Hickey (who got great reviews as the chef at Allium in the Four Seasons) made a surprising announcement - he was headed to Rockit Ranch Productions, Billy Dec's hospitality company, to run the food and beverage program. This collaboration led to some great spots: places like Bottlefork, The Duck Inn and Otto Mezzo, that were surprisingly highbrow for the company that previously didn't have much of a reputation for great food. Well, the good times are (apparently) over.

Late last week (as in Friday, at 4 p.m., the preferred time for bad news to drop), Hickey's representatives sent out an announcement that, effective immediately, he and Rockit Ranch had parted ways. The announcement was amiable-sounding, at least.

Rockit Ranch Productions and I have made the mutual decision to separate so that we can focus our energies on what we each do best. The partnership has been an honor and a privilege. We have learned, grown and been challenged. We know our friendship will carry on and we will always be there to support and enjoy in each other’s successes, as I am confident there will be many.

As for my focus now, my center of gravity is Bridgeport. My family lives down the street from the restaurant. My son busses tables there. I want to do more to raise the profile of this South side community. To do so, I need to be present.

The big announcement at the end: The Duck Inn, which has become both a nationally-acclaimed restaurant and a Bridgeport staple, would stay open, but would become independent and owned by Hickey.

on Monday, more news broke. Otto Mezzo, the fairly-new vermouth-focused bar in River North, would also be closing. Eater reports that Brandon Phillips, who had run the beverage program, would be following Hickey and continuing to work with Duck Inn.

It's a bit surprising that the loss of a bartender (even one as great as Phillips) would cause the closing of a popular bar backed by a restaurant group, unless something else was going on. Is Rockit having difficulties? Did the bar just not perform well? Or did the group decide that highbrow food and drink just wasn't worth the bother? If so, they wouldn't be alone.

In any case, the most important thing for me is that whatever drama happened didn't take The Duck Inn and Chef Hickey down with it. That restaurant is incredibly special, and given how many closings we've endured lately, losing it might be more than Chicago can stand.