“You just have to be everywhere at once, and be very observant, and watch everything,” says Jessica Line, the general manager of the Avondale restaurant Wherewithall. “It’s just like having restaurant eyes.”
She has to greet and seat guests as they arrive, noting any dietary restrictions. A four-course (plus extra bites) prix fixe has to be served on time in the dining room, while orders need to be taken from the a la carte menu on the patio and at the bar. There’s only one bartender, who also takes orders from the patio, so when a big drink order comes in, she might have to help mix cocktails. A single server assistant means she and her four servers have to occasionally run dishes of duck and gem lettuce or sturgeon and garlic scapes to tables. Table settings must be replaced after each course in the dining room, and questions about wines or dishes have to be answered with a generous smile.
The realities of staffing a restaurant and maintaining a high standard in these confusing times mean that Line bounces around between every front-of-house role at Wherewithall: hostess, bartender, server assistant, server—and of course, her actual job of general manager.
Meanwhile, Wherewithall’s chef de cuisine Tayler Ploshehanski is busy ensuring that the courses of her prix fixe meal are artfully plated, expertly cooked and seasoned, and reach each table at a reasonable time—while slotting in space for her four cooks to prepare a la carte items such as lollipop chicken wings for the bar and patio. The coursed menu is only days-old—Ploshehanski envisions a new one every week based upon available and seasonal ingredients—but it still requires a last-minute substitution because a truck carrying her order of rhubarb broke down; the dessert will have golden kiwi instead.
Wherewithall is the second restaurant of the acclaimed chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, whose Michelin-starred Korean restaurant Parachute is just down Elston Avenue. It offers fine dining—exemplified by that seasonal prix fixe menu and an idiosyncratic wine list—in a decidedly friendly, casual atmosphere aided by its location on Elston, across the street from a pub. It’s the kind of place where the chef and cooks will prepare buttered noodles for a child—there’s no kids’ menu—but obsessively taste the pasta to ensure that it’s excellent and insist on adding peas to make the dish more exciting than plain starch and fat before sending it out.
As executive chefs, Kim and Clark mostly handle the business side of Wherewithall. Its day-to-day operations are primarily in the hands of Ploshehanski and Line.
On a typical day, Ploshehanski gets to Wherewithall around 11:00 am to accept orders of ingredients as they arrive. Her cooks arrive at 1:00 or 2:00 pm, depending on the requirements of the day.
Tuesdays are the first day of the new week and a new dining room menu for Wherewithall. Ploshehanski has already developed the menu—ideally by Friday or Saturday, so that she, Line, and Parachute’s general manager Jose Villalobos can order wine pairings, but sometimes it’s only finalized on Monday. She runs through it with her team, who begin to prep elements of it. She and her cooks have worked together for at least a year at this point, so she doesn’t write many recipes down, instead trusting them to know how she wants a puree or a dashi prepared.
Ploshehanski goes over the menu with Line in detail so that Line knows all of its components as well as any necessary vegetarian, gluten-free, or other substitutions. On other days of the week, Line checks in for any last-minute changes due to a lack of an ingredient or other contingency.
While Ploshehanski returns to helping out her cooks and testing components of the menu, Line begins printing individual menus with dietary substitutions for each dining room reservation, and attaches a chit with any notes about the guest: if it’s their birthday, or whether they ordered a special drink last time they were at the restaurant, or expressed interest in an unusual wine. (Servers note all of this at the end of each night.)
Servers have already started setting out candles and place settings, while the bartender Brendon Duran has prepped citrus and gone through his stock to note to Line what wines or beverages need to be restocked if she hasn’t done so already.
Everyone takes a break from the calm industriousness to enjoy a quick staff meal prepared by the cooks from ingredients that need to be used up. On Fridays, when the whole staff is there, the servers taste the week’s menu.
Everyone returns to their tasks before a pre-shift front-of-house meeting led by Line and often joined by Ploshehanski. Line notes any special accommodations for guests that evening, shares details of the menu with her servers, and outlines the wine pairings. She might have them try a new wine while sharing its backstory, or do a blind tasting of a bottle they already know in order to hone their sense of its qualities. (On a recent evening, everyone playfully lamented customers’ reluctance to try a wine from Michigan, despite the staff’s strong recommendation, simply because it was from…well, Michigan.)
If it’s a Tuesday, Ploshehanski has ideally tasted the whole menu by now, giving her team plenty of time for tweaks. But if they’re serving, say, an ice cream for dessert, it takes time to freeze—and she might not be able to try it until customers have arrived. Only once has there been a disaster requiring a very last-minute rethinking of a course.
And then the restaurant opens at 6:00 pm and customers begin to appear.
Line greets them as a host, helps Duran take orders from the patio, mixes cocktails when a big order comes in, runs prepared dishes to tables, wipes down wineglasses as they come out of the bar dishwasher (a fifth person in the kitchen also washes dishes), tends to the fire on the patio, and makes sure nothing goes wrong—or fixes it if it does. Her servers also jump in to fill extra roles like host and ensure there are no gaps.
Ploshehanski stands at the edge of the pass, the open kitchen counter where her cooks pass off finished dishes, expediting: working with a pencil and colored markers on a grid and a la carte tickets, she makes sure each dish goes where it needs to, warm (or cold) and on time. She also arranges garnishes, steps in to help plate dishes when numerous patrons need to be served at once, and tastes things as they are prepared, making adjustments as need be. Line might even step in to expedite for a minute while Ploshehanski helps plate and garnish.
At the end of a long night, the staff breaks down and cleans the kitchen and dining room. Ploshehanski places any orders she needs for the following day; if it’s the end of a week and there are leftover ingredients, she might start thinking about how to use them in a bite in next week’s menu. She and her staff leave between roughly 11:00 pm and midnight, or closer to 1:00 am on Saturdays, when the kitchen undergoes a deep clean before the restaurant’s two days off.
“It’s very satisfying when you get everything right, and you create systems that function and work for everybody and work for the space,” says Line. A native of west suburban Lisle, she has worked in some “terrible environments” in the restaurant industry.
“It’s like when you’re in school and you’re like, ‘Man, this teacher sucks! I want to grow up to be a teacher so I can be a good teacher.’ I was like, ‘I want to be in charge so I can create a safe, functioning, respectful workplace for everybody. That’s the main thing I love.”
She was hired as a bartender for Wherewithall when it opened in 2019. She had served as general manager at The Bad Apple previously, having worked her way up from server and bartender, but she decided she wanted a lighter load in her next job—until the general manager position opened at Wherewithall. “After working with Beverly and Johnny for a couple months, I saw the opportunities that the old GM had, and it was a little chaotic, and myself being a bit of a control freak, I was like, ‘Yes, I want to step into this position. I want to help everyone.’”
Ploshehanski came to Wherewithall in late 2020 to help Clark and Kim with their nonprofit work supporting mothers in the restaurant industry and providing pay-as-you-can meals to Chicagoans in need. She had met Kim while she was in culinary school at Kendall College, having decided to try her hand at cooking after casting about for a career following a childhood in Hampshire, west of Chicago. When Kim and Clark reopened Wherewithall in the summer of 2021, they offered to hire Ploshehanski as a chef de cuisine.
She had interned at Blackbird, where she met David Posey, who later hired her to open Elske with him and his wife Anna Posey. As a sous chef there, she ordered ingredients and executed Posey’s menu—valuable experience for running the kitchen at Wherewithall and constantly recreating its menu. “Really the only thing that I wasn’t necessarily doing there was the creative side,” she says.
Ploshehanski has been running the kitchen at Wherewithall for almost exactly a year now; Line began at the restaurant on its opening day nearly three years ago. Together they’ve served about 50 ambitious menus with the support of their small but dedicated staff. The recent reopening of Parachute has taken up more of Kim and Clark’s time, so “I feel like it’s me and Tayler definitely running this, with their oversight,” says Line. “It feels good to be trusted. I love it.”