Stone Flower, chef Jacob Bickelhaupt’s follow-up restaurant to Michelin-starred 42 Grams, is officially closed, as another chef has announced plans for a new restaurant inside the Bucktown space. Bickelhaupt closed 42 Grams in June 2017, and a month later he pled guilty to attacking his ex-wife, Alexa Welsh, who managed the restaurant.
During the pandemic, Stone Flower exclusively offered takeout, a major change for a fine dining restaurant that specialized in luxurious tasting menus with expensive ingredients such as A5 wagyu beef, which isn’t very carryout-friendly. The restaurant’s last on-premise service occurred before the state closed restaurants in March 2020.
A three-and-a-half-hour video uploaded to Bickelhaupt’s YouTube account in October shows him packing up his restaurant and saying he wanted to slip away quietly to avoid drawing any attention to Stone Flower’s closure. The video includes footage taken in August, but it wasn’t until an announcement last week from the building’s new tenant that the closure became widely known. Bickelhaupt could not be reached for comment.
Bickelhaupt yearned for a Michelin star at Stone Flower, which opened in 2019. 42 Grams — a documentary about the restaurant — captured his quest for recognition, including an emotional phone call when Michelin inspectors told him 42 Grams would make their list. But critics were reluctant to visit his subsequent restaurant due to the controversy surrounding his arrest. Critic Michael Nagrant wrote that after Bickelhaupt’s conviction for battery, he could not in good conscience review Stone Flower. Instead, he donated what he would have spent on dinner (a meal costs $300 per person) to a domestic violence charity.
Former Tribune critic Phil Vettel didn’t mention Stone Flower in his writeup about the plans for the space last week. In one of his last stories before he exited the paper, Vettel omitted Bickelhaupt, but mentioned former tenants Stephanie Izard and Takashi Yagihashi.
The lack of media attention for Stone Flower irked Bickelhaupt, who is listed as making his directorial debut on another documentary — called 86ed — that promises an overview of his journey toward sobriety and how “cancel culture changed his life forever.”
Bickelhaupt enjoyed a meteoric rise after opening 42 Grams in January 2014, as Michelin starred his restaurant in its rookie year. Three years later, he and Welsh were divorced, but they continued operating the two-Michelin-starred restaurant for the six months leading to the attack, which resulted in stitches to close up a head wound suffered by Welsh. Bickelhaupt pled guilty to simple battery, and his conditional release included fines, drug testing, and the completion of a domestic violence program.
After Michelin did not list Stone Flower in its rankings, Bickelhaupt claimed Welsh had violated a nondisparagement agreement and cost the restaurant $250,000 in sales. He filed a lawsuit against her in October 2019, claiming Welsh’s comments to Eater Chicago and Block Club Chicago had ruined his reputation. In a text message sent last week, Welsh told Eater Chicago that she received notice that Bickelhaupt’s camp had dropped the lawsuit. Cook County records show the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed last week, on January 19. Welsh had little else to say about the closure: “I’m happy to disappear into the shadows,” she texted.
Bickelhaupt remarried last year and moved to the Denver area (where his spouse is from), bringing his Konro dinners — a pop-up series he held in Chicago before Stone Flower’s opening — out west: “I like it a lot, it’s a beautiful place to be, it’s calmer… hopefully I get a second chance with a new population or a new crowd of people,” Bickelhaupt said on a video posted to his YouTube channel. “So far, so good; there’s been no hate, no nothing like that. I’ve been very fortunate and grateful that maybe I get a second chance.”
The chef taking over the former Stone Flower space is Trevor Teich, a Chicago-area native who for years has searched for a permanent space for Claudia, his own fine dining pop-up. Teich emphasized that his restaurant has no connection to Bickelhaupt. Last week, Teich’s colleagues wished him luck on his Facebook page, with one member of the industry urging him to “spiritually cleanse that place before you open.”
“The building has a long history of chefs like Takashi, Stephanie Izard, and Dixie, who are all people who cooked at a very high level and brought magnificent cuisine to the city of Chicago for many years — and still do,” Teich says, also referencing Dixie, a southern restaurant that closed in 2017 from Lillie’s Q pit master Charlie McKenna. “And that’s what we’re doing to do. I’m excited to reinvigorate the address.”
Still, there’s residue within Chicago’s restaurant industry stemming from Bickelhaupt’s arrest — Stone Flower’s opening catalyzed awareness of toxic work environments. An industrywide fundraiser for Chicago’s oldest women’s shelter (Connections for Abused Women and Their Children) was born to protest the restaurant in 2019.
Industry veteran Daniella Caruso organized that fundraiser. She finds little joy in Stone Flower’s closure, noting that the pandemic has led to an increase in domestic violence cases. Under normal circumstances, victims have few places to escape, but during COVID-19, the options and resources dwindle even further.
“Victory is not Stone Flower closing; people still lost their jobs, and there’s never any solace in that,” she says.
Caruso is hopeful that the restaurant industry will prioritize domestic violence awareness, and says: “the issue is so pervasive, there’s a Jake Bickelhaupt in every city and every state.”
If you know someone or suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800)799-7233 or call Connections for Abused Women and Their Children (CAWC) at (773) 278-4566. For emergencies, dial 911.