Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Cleetus Friedman, the beloved and popular chef of Fountainhead, who previously owned and helmed the kitchen at City Provisions, a catering company which expanded into a full service delicatessen. Cleetus is known for his support of the local food movement and, most recently, for his collaborations with local breweries which are often found on tap at Fountainhead. After chatting with Cleetus and sampling a variety of the dishes on Fountainhead’s menu, I left feeling the drive, love, and passion that Cleetus puts into everything he does.
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, some of Cleetus’ greatest memories are of his mother, Karren, hosting dinner parties with elaborately decorated cakes. As a result, Cleetus associated food with people and entertaining. At the age of 14, Cleetus began working as a busboy at a local restaurant and immediately knew that he wanted to cook, which he then did at a fine dining restaurant in Baltimore. After attending the University of Maryland, Cleetus moved to Chicago because of the quantity and quality of the restaurants located here. After developing catering programs for the likes of Caffee Baci and Heaven on Seven, Cleetus opened his own catering company, City Provisions, in 2008, in order to connect the community with food. By 2010, City Provisions turned into a full service delicatessen. He closed City Provisions in early 2013 and began scouting for his next opportunity. He found it at Fountainhead.
Fountainhead was a neighborhood restaurant for Cleetus and, as a father, he wanted a balance of work and family time. While he had other opportunities, Fountainhead was a perfect fit for Cleetus as it allowed him to be who he is and do what does. The culture and the synergy in the front and back of the house made it easy for him to create a new menu that reflected his tastes and approach, all while highlighting the advanced drink program.
A little over a year later, it is evident that Cleetus is at home at Fountainhead. Cleetus describes his menu as “gastropubby.” He gains inspiration at the farmer’s markets and pairs his food with the 500 various whiskeys on the menu. He focuses on fresh ingredients, many of which are taken from the restaurant’s own rooftop garden. In addition to the main dining room and bar, Fountainhead features an incredible rooftop which seats over 80 and serves a limited menu. Cleetus wants Fountainhead to be a dining destination where guests are met with experienced servers who are approachable, knowledgeable and have no pretension. Cleetus sites music and his colleagues as his greatest inspiration, and feels lucky to work in the greatest food city in the country.
Cleetus lives in the present and does not look too far ahead, but his main goals are to have Fountainhead be one of the top 3 gastropubs in the city, to be the best at what he does, and to be a great father, leader and connector of people.
Currently, Cleetus is working on his next project – Chicago’s first cider pub and French/English bistro called The Northman. Opening soon, The Northman will feature more than 100 ciders and calvados, an apple brandy. Cleetus will be overseeing the menu which will focus on food which prepared from local ingredients and which compliment the ciders.
Cleetus is committed, passionate, and a born leader – all the tools necessary to be a success in work and in life.
Stay tuned for my Chritique of Fountainhead’s food this week!
1970 West Montrose Avenue, Chicago