Upon meeting Billy Dec, founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, three things were revealed in quick succession. He is extremely proud of his Asian-American heritage, is passionate about bringing publicity to Chicago and he takes his coffee with milk and honey. So aside from java with floral nectar and dairy, what does it take to build one of the city’s most well-known restaurant and nightclub empires? According to Dec three things – hard work, relentlessness and networking. “I’ve worked harder than anyone my whole life because I’ve had to,” he stated. Citing his first job as a coat check attendant in a Chinese restaurant, he’s been perfecting his hustle since the sixth grade.
After many successful nightclub ventures, beginning when he was in law school (Remember Circus and Le Passage?), Dec and partners decided to launch Rockit Ranch Productions. Dec stated, “I began to partner with people who had way better strengths than I did in different areas. I started to surround myself with people who really knew what they were doing.” This restaurant and nightclub management company houses Rockit Bar & Grill, Rockit Burger Bar, Sunda, Underground, Bottlefork and The Duck Inn.
Rockit Bar & Grill
The first official venture of Rockit Ranch Productions, Rockit Bar & Grill opened its doors in River North before the neighborhood was a hotspot. “We chose that location because no one else was there and the rent was cheap,” Dec stated. This stylish restaurant is closing in on its 12th year of business but the space and menu went through a redesign a little over a year ago. A member of the kitchen staff shared, “Our clientele has really grown with us, they’ve evolved and the food needed to evolve too.” And evolve it did. Serving weekend brunch, lunch and dinner, the menu is a modern and slightly elevated twist on traditional bar fare. They’ve also kicked their cocktails up a notch, offering a variety of seasonal drinks, specialty cocktails and a killer Bloody Mary bar.
What to Order: The Avocado Toast. The thick cut harvest wheat toast houses a creamy avocado mash, an expertly poached soft egg, crispy bacon, decadent chunks of goat cheese, sprouts, tomatoes, sunflower seeds and a rich pesto.
22 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL 60654
Rockit Burger Bar
A rustic, burger focused spin-off of the aforementioned Rockit Bar & Grill, Rockit Burger Bar is located across the street from Wrigley Field and is a frequent destination of Cub’s fans. With sixteen Black Angus beef burgers on the menu (all of which can be substituted with a grilled chicken breast or a veggie patty), a variety of appetizers, specialty French fries, pizzas, salads and sweets, it serves both classic and out-of-the-box pub food. The drinks are strong and the menu is gluttonous, just as it should be.
What to Order: Mac & Cheese Attack. This brazen burger features two fried mac and cheese buns and a grilled chicken, Black Angus or veggie patty with lettuce, tomato, scallions and Sriracha ketchup. Our advice – wear loose pants.
3700 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613
Celebrity sightings occur frequently at the ever trendy and eclectic Sunda. So much so that at one point Dec was interviewing its prestigious patrons for Chicago Tribune’s Metromix. With an Asian menu that includes food from a variety of cultures, techniques from all over the diverse continent are employed. Given his Asian-American background, Sunda holds a special place in Dec’s heart. When asked what his favorite dish was he had a difficult time choosing just one. In addition to its regular brunch, lunch and dinner menus, Sunda also boasts two separate menus devoted to vegan and gluten-free dining at each meal.
What to Order: Crunchy Pig, Hidden Lobster. This brilliant concoction is one of the signature sushi options offered across each of the regular menus. Made with soy paper, lobster, avocado and jalapeno and topped with bacon, potato chips and drizzled with sweet chili sauce, it’s a roll every sushi lover should try.
110 West Illinois Street, Chicago, IL 60654
With a line almost always down the block, the success of Underground is undisputed. The swanky space has two rooms, many private tables and multiple bars. Another hotspot for celebrity sightings, there’s no such thing as a dull moment in this nightclub. And with plenty of room for dancing, Underground hosts an extensive variety of international guest DJs of varying fame. Catering to both the local and out of town crowd, Underground is the place to see and be seen. Yet when we asked Dec to tell us when he realized he was successful he replied, “The idea of success in the future.” And also noted, “No one in this business has a long term advantage.”
What to Order: Bottle Service. When in Rome…
56 West Illinois Street, Chicago, IL 60654
The interior of Bottlefork is quaint and cozy and the food is anything but. While at first glance the dishes on the menu sound familiar – chicken wings, tots, sandwiches and pasta to name a few, each has its own twist thanks to executive chef Kevin Hickey. At this door’s always-open establishment the chicken wings are Korean, the tots come with Pimento cheese sauce, the sandwiches are decadent and the pasta is served intertwined with a variety of mouthwatering ingredients (here’s looking at you Orecchiette with baby kale, breadcrumbs and spicy chicken sausage).
What to Order: Breakfast Sope. This traditional Mexican dish is the king of breakfast. A fried egg is served on top of black beans, a very thick tortilla and Ranchera sauce. It’s paired with fresh guacamole and dusted in Cotija cheese. Walking away hungry is not an option.
441 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654
The Duck Inn
The newest venture for the restaurant group, the Duck Inn’s menu rotates around, you guessed it, duck. The brainchild of chef Kevin Hickey, this space pays homage to its Bridgeport location and Hickey’s great-grandmother. And while there is a variety of other delicious items ready for consumption (think spot prawns with risotto and uni butter), the duck steals the show. When asked what the process of opening up a new restaurant was like Dec impressed upon the importance of developing the DNA of the brand. “We decide 10 or 15 words that the restaurant should be at all times and if it were a song what song would it be, if it were a car what car it would be, things like that.”
What to Order: Rotisserie Duck. Meant for two, this lavish whole duck is served with duck fat potato salad, baby kale, radishes and a cherry duck sauce.
2701 South Eleanor Street, Chicago, IL 60608
See highlights from our exclusive, live interview with Billy Dec:
Featured Image Photo Credit: Illinois Meetings & Events