Episode 6: Paul Kahan

Marc sits down with Paul Kahan Executive Chef and Co founder of One Off Hospitality Group.

Avec River North exterior (photo by Marc Brice)

Several weeks ago, I was on my way to a meeting with Eduard Seitan regarding the wine list at the newly opened River North location. When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to run into Paul Kahan, Executive Chef and one of the original founders of One-Off Hospitality Group. I had not seen Paul in quite some time especially during our 14 months of dealing with a Pandemic.

Paul looked amazingly healthy compared to the days when he and his partners had just opened Blackbird restaurant. Black rings around his eyes were the norm as he worked tirelessly around the clock to remake each dish till, they were perfect for release. He reminded me of a talented writer who constantly would do re-writes till his novel was ready for prime time. I mentioned the start of my new venture and podcast J Soif I had just opened during this SNAFU and asked if he was interested to appear as a guest. He kindly without hesitation agreed to do so.

Paul Kahan, Executive Chef and Co founder for One Off Hospitality Group (photo courtesy of Paul Kahan)

Paul and I recorded this interview on May 11, 2021. I wanted to interview a renowned Chef and owner of an especially important restaurant group and hear his perspective, trials, and tribulations of trying to survive during the most challenging period of our time. Some things were done wrong, and he admitted, he would now do them differently. Some staff left Chicago and some the entire industry. Paul’s pride and joy Blackbird; ground zero for this group had to be reluctantly put to sleep. Closed after 23 glorious years, gone is the hospitality you received from the likes of partner Rick Diarmit who always had a fresh copy the N.Y Times waiting for you at the bar.

One Off Hospitality Group during its peak employed about 1200 employees. Reduced in 2020 during the pandemic to what Paul calls “A skeleton crew.” Being a competitive high school and college wrestler, I know where Paul learned to be resilient and how to stand back up after getting knocked down and quote ‘’ seeing stars”. Avec is back, better than ever now in not one but two locations including an attractive Bar atop the River North location.

Avec River North interior (photo by Marc Brice)

Andrew Zimmerman once described; “if he was your friend and your car broke down Paul would not only show up to help but he would bring a tow truck.” His kind and humble nature must have come from his dad.

I’m confident that Paul and his talented partners he surrounded himself with will be at the forefront of the new post Covid Chicago food scene. I keep coming back to Avec as I have been since 1998 not because of the buzz in the room and its electricity that once reminded me of my hang out Lucky Strike in NYC. I keep coming back for the great food AVEC the great wine list AVEC hospitality.

• Avec W Loop: 615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661 (312) 377-2002
• Avec River North: 141 W Erie St, Chicago, IL 60654 (312)736-1778
• Bar Avec: 640 N Lasalle Drive 8th Floor, Chicago, IL 60654
• Réservations recommended online or by phone.
• New Bakery coming soon on Grand and Wood stay tuned!

This interview is dedicated to Rick “Ricky” Diarmit: February 10, 1959 – June 23, 2018