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Trotter’s To Go closes as famous chef heads for hiatus

Chef Charlie Trotter dining room his restaurant 816 W. Armitage. . | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Chef Charlie Trotter in the dining room of his restaurant at 816 W. Armitage. . | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 5, 2012 6:27AM

Celebrated chef Charlie Trotter’s takeout restaurant, Trotter’s To Go at 1337 W. Fullerton, shuttered last weekend despite expectations that it would remain open after his main restaurant closes on Aug. 31.

Trotter said that while he “had not initially contemplated” closing the take-out restaurant, he felt it made sense to close now.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of months, and that we might as well wrap (the To-Go closing) into the other closing,” Trotter said in an interview. “If we had waited until the end of summer, we would have been stretched quite thin. It was a clean cut.”

The 15 employees at Trotter’s To Go were offered jobs at the restaurant until it closes, and Trotter said all but one or two employees accepted. The Trotters To Go site will be available for re-lease soon, he said.

Trotter, 52, said he hasn’t decided what to do with the restaurant property, which he owns.

Trotter told the Sun-Times in an exclusive interview published Jan. 1 that he would close his eponymous restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s, 816 W. Armitage, in August, 25 years after it opened in a Lincoln Park townhouse and soon emerged a national foodie destination.

In the past four years, Trotter had shuttered two other restaurants outside of Chicago — Restaurant Charlie in the Palazzo Las Vegas resort in March 2010, and “C” restaurant at the super-luxe One & Only Palmilla Resort in southern Baja, Mexico, in November 2008.

Trotter told the Sun-Times in an interview 11 years ago that he had considered closing Charlie Trotter’s restaurant before — after 9/11, when he watched from an airplane runway as the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and again five years ago — but he said the timing never felt right.

The restaurant employs 65. For its last night, Aug. 31, it will feature the antithesis of what it is known for, said Trotter.

“It will be dive, diner and drive-in food,” said Trotter, who grew up in Wilmette and is known for his PBS-TV show, cookbooks and decades of winning top-flight industry awards. “We’ll clear the furniture and have jungle juice on the curb and have Philly cheesesteak pizza.”

Trotter is close to deciding where he wants to go to school to get a master’s degree in philosophy and political theory — the same subjects he majored in as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Northwestern University is probably the spot,” he said, noting that he plans to start his studies in January 2013 after traveling to Argentina, Portugal and Scotland with his wife, Rochelle.

He called his next step “a three-year hiatus.”

He will continue his consulting role with Holland America Cruise Line and other projects. He also is working on a cookbook, his 16th, to be published in September.

Though Trotter said in the Sun-Times interview late last year that he would open another restaurant, he said Tuesday he isn’t sure.

“I love the world of hospitality, service and gastronomy – it’s entirely possible I will (return),” he said.

Why a possible lifestyle change?

“I love what I do. It’s the most gratifying thing,” Trotter said. “But I’ve been this way my whole life. If you don’t do something differently, you might go crazy. It’s time to shake it up. I want to challenge myself.”

“Life is too short not to try to realize your dreams. You’re never too old to do something (new),” he said, noting that he was influenced at age 19 by Saul Bellow’s book, “Henderson the Rain King” about a middle-aged man who feels restless despite his riches and high social status and goes to Africa to discover what he wants for fulfillment.

And Trotter has a fallback.

“If I get kicked out or flunked out of school, I can go back to the restaurant business. There’s no downside.”

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