The “Top Celebrity Hangouts of 2013” list continues this week with a very familiar name to those who have been following the rankings the past few years. Whereas No. 5, Siena Tavern, is a newcomer (it opened in February), the No. 4 hot spot on the list has made the top five every year since I started my rankings in 2010.
This year’s rankings, based on star power and number of sightings, will count down each week to No. 1 on Dec. 20. Here is No. 4 on the list: Sunda.
Spotted: Lady Gaga, Mark Wahlberg, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Derek Jeter, Marcus Mumford, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Bay, Johnny Galecki, Zoe Kravitz, Billy Corgan, Sophia Bush, Emmy Rossum, David Schwimmer, Mike Ditka, Maggie Q, Mike Posner, Muse, Miles Teller, Kris Humphries, Ali Fedotowsky, Jesse Spencer
Regulars: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
Owners: Rockit Ranch Productions, owners of The Underground, Rockit Bar & Grill, Ay Chiwowa and Rockit Burger Bar.
Back story: “My partners and I really love new Asian (cuisine) — modern takes on Asian dishes,” said Rockit Ranch CEO Billy Dec. “We wanted upscale modern Asian food that really didn’t exist in Chicago at the time. When we open something, we try to fill a void.”
Draw: To win over celebs, you need to win over the city first, according to Dec: “You have to earn the respect of the city first to get that momentum. The city won’t (recommend your restaurant) if you don’t have good food and good service.” Dec also pointed out that many of the celebs who visit Sunda are friends, relationships he and partners Arturo Gomez and Brad Young have developed during their many years in the industry.
VIP section: Celebs often sit at the table known as “Billy’s table.” It's right beside the large piece of art hanging against the east wall. The restaurant also has a more secluded dining section in the back and a private dining room upstairs.
Discount: “I’ll send out gifts, just to expose them to new items the chef has created or whatever is seasonal,” Dec said. “Or like when (Olympic swimmer) Ryan Lochte came in (in 2012) and we made him that gold medallion (out of sushi) — things like that. A play off of whatever is going on.”
Endorsement: Patrick Kane gets spotted around Chicago more than any other celeb, so I asked the Blackhawks star to name his favorite restaurant in the city. “Sunda,” said Kane. “I tend to like sushi a little more the past few years.”
Sample tweet: “Incredible food celebrating an incredible night! @sunda” — Sophia Bush
Dish: “Barbra Streisand loves the garlic noodles,” Dec said. “It’s funny — that would not be in the top half of our most-sold items.”
Phil Vettel's restaurant review: 3 stars
Impact: If you’re one of the nearly-35,000 people who follow Dec on Twitter, you know how important a celeb clientele is to him. He frequently tweets photos of himself with stars who visit his venues and retweets what they had to say about his venues. “I think people have emotional reactions to things they love,” Dec said. “If they love that celebrity (they see here), they’ll have an emotional reaction to everything they’re getting here. It becomes sort of an additional added value that makes the experience more memorable and exciting.” Dec also sees some value in celebs’ ability to influence others. “It’s about sharing,” he said. “If (celebs) share their experience with others, that’s great. But I can’t say a celeb with a ton of followers is better than a person who works in the building across the street that influences people who work there.”
Future outlook: Sunda is no longer the new kid on the block, but you wouldn’t know it from the trendy and famous clientele that continues to fill the restaurant up. How much longer can it stay trendy in an always-changing scene? It depends, in part, if Dec continues to send his famous pals to Sunda or to Bottlefork — the New-American restaurant he and his partners are opening up next year with former Allium chef Kevin Hickey. One other thing to keep an eye on is the growing popularity among celebs of fellow Asian restaurant Jellyfish in the Gold Coast. Still, there aren’t many entrepreneurs better at courting celebs than Dec, so expect to see his presence in these rankings for years to come, whether it’s with Sunda or another spot.
2012 ranking: 2
2011 ranking: 1
2010 ranking: 1
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