Fact Sheet: Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails

February 5, 2024

Kindling Expertly Joins the Old and the New at Willis Tower

Cookouts, campfires and long summer days are the spark behind Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails, a dining experience designed by KTGY, a Great Places to Work certified design firm focused on architecture, branding, interior design and planning. Located at the base of Willis Tower and operated by Chicago’s Fifty/50 Group, Kindling features an open-fire grill with an elevated American menu from James Beard award-winning chef and Food Network celebrity, Jonathon Sawyer.

An inter-studio effort, the restaurant serves as a calling card for collaboration between KTGY’s architecture, interior and branding disciplines. The interior design sculpts the large volume of space into moments alternating between dimension and intimacy. Pathways meander through the tables and up the stairs which frame a statement art piece; a child’s silhouette gently blowing dandelion seeds. Lush greens and plant life fill in the space while pendants recalling the dandelion create bursts of light and motion in the space overhead.

The ground floor consists of semicircular banquettes and rows of tables that peek through the foliage in intimate seating arrangements, while the upper-level bar has a field day with open seating, game tables and ropework “suspended” bar. The outdoor terrace extends the second floor and sits above the busy street with Willis Tower as its backdrop. A shipping container bar anchors the space, and comfortable seating moments separated by lush landscaping are lit with warm festoons that bring the “day in the park” to a warm summer night.

The branding team was inspired by the original identity present at the 1973 completion of the Sears Tower, lending a throwback feel to the signs, menus, and touchpoints in the space. The bold, avant-garde signs are drawn from Chicago’s many parks along with the sidewalk-caulk inspired ground art that provides wayfinding and visuals that guests can see from the upper level.

The design works in concert with the historic structure to create a present-day definition of accessible upscale dining. Massive steel columns can be reimagined as soaring trees, with the lofted second-story space overlooking the ground floor and guests peering through coarse red ropework that seems to lift the entire space.

Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails stands in for what Willis Tower represents today. The old and new juxtapose, but ultimately come together in a place that can be equally enjoyed by tourists, locals, workers and people stopping by. Kindling has been meticulously crafted to highlight the building’s architectural spirit, while breathing new life into a historic space.

Stefanie Hajer, associate principal, interiors, says “It was rewarding to work together with architecture, the client and Gina to create a tangible, organic identity for what could’ve been a cold and imposing space. It was interesting to be able to tie the restaurant, the building and its history together in a place that feels full of discovery.”

Gina Deary, principal, says “I love this city — it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to define this new space in such an iconic building. I was impressed by how our different design disciplines met each challenge and contributed to a guest experience that’s fresh, vibrant and puts this place into compelling perspective.”

Address: 202 S Franklin St, Chicago, IL 60606
Developer/Owner: Blackstone, Inc.
Architecture + Interiors + Branding: KTGY
Floors: 2
Space: 16,000 square feet
● Celebrity-chef driven experience with open-fire kitchen.
● Second floor entertainment area for games and activities.
● Two levels with different atmospheres: intimate dining enclaves on the first level and a vibrant bar and patio on the second.
● Four strategic entrances to attract a diverse range of visitors.
● A transparent glass facade highlighting the restaurant’s vibrant interior.
● Ground floor, corner showcase in the renovated Willis Tower podium.