The cocktail-slinging Cedars Social, near South Side on Lamar, is about to get a reboot, with a new chef and new management. Owner-founder Brian Williams informed his staff of his departure this week with a hand-off to PR master Jeffrey Yarbrough, who is overseeing operations in the interim until a new team is hired.
"For the past week, I've been working on assembling a team," Yarbrough says. "It was important not to go dark, and we have a crew of cooks and waiters that have stayed. I went in last week and said, 'For now, I'm the new guy.' That's the story today.
"That will change dramatically every day over the next week. I will have a plan put together, but today I'm keeping the lights on."
Williams is the former linebacker for the Green Bay Packers who opened Cedars Social in 2011. He opened with chef John Tesar in the kitchen (who eventually left to concentrate on The Commissary, his burger bar at One Arts Plaza) and bar manager Michael Martensen, whose cocktails represented a big part of the allure.
Williams was a hospitable host but without much experience. That didn't stop him and Martensen from expanding with a bar on Travis, The Establishment, and a speakeasy, Smyth, neither of which lasted long. Williams and Martensen eventually parted ways, as well, following a dramatic staff walkout. That formed the basis for the creation of Proof + Pantry, which ended up taking over The Commissary space. All a big circle.
Yarbrough says that Martensen's cocktails won't go away, and there is plenty they will keep — including the nifty decor and cool fire pit — regardless of who comes in.
"The food's still good," he says. "The other night I had the shrimp and grits, short ribs, the flatbread, and a field greens salad with caramelized apple, and it was all good. I'm not going in and saying, 'Make the drinks different.' We are maintaining."