Cleetus Friedman's City Provisions deli closes

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Cleetus Friedman at City Provisions in 2011
Last night chef Cleetus Friedman announced that City Provisions, his Ravenswood deli and catering company, would close—effective immediately. No nostalgic last days of business or closeout sales here. Friedman told me over the phone today that he realized a few weeks ago that the business was was no longer sustainable, and didn't feel the need to drag things out. Business was OK, he said, there just wasn't enough of it. He wasn't willing to compromise what he was doing in order to make the store more sustainable financially, so his only choice was to close.

I first met Friedman in 2011, when he was assigned bourbon for a Key Ingredient challenge. He described his creative process this way: "I took a bottle of bourbon. I opened it up. I started to sip the bourbon, and let the ideas come to mind. I didn't even get halfway through the bottle, thank goodness, when I realized that I wanted to do some sort of meat."

Friedman ended up using it to brine and create a glaze for a house-made ham. He mentioned at the time that pretty much everything he sold was made in-house: "When you look at our ham sandwich, that ham comes to us as a whole hog. We butcher in-house. We break it down, we brine and smoke the hams, we do ciccioli and sausages and patés and everything."

He also created beers in collaboration with local breweries including Metropolitan and Half Acre and made his own hummus and "Cleetus Heatus" salsas, among other things. There were some complaints about sandwich prices, which averaged $11-$12, but Friedman says that's because of the quality of the ingredients. "Everything is from scratch. I made mayonnaise from eggs that cost $4 a dozen. So when people ask about sandwich prices, it starts there. Everything was homemade."

Friedman isn't sure yet what he'll be doing next; he says he may join a business that already exists instead of creating a new one of his own. He has kids and says he needs to be responsible financially so that he can continue to support them. While he's figuring that out, he'll do the catering gigs he has booked already, and may do pop-up dinners in the space until his lease runs out in August. He'll also continue to organize farm dinners at nearby farms and the Botanic Garden, which he's been doing for about five years. "I know there's something out there for me," he says. "I don't know what that's going to be."

Below is the full letter he sent out explaining his reasons for closing.

As of Monday January 28th I am closing the City Provisions Delicatessen.

I guess there is something to be said about committing to a mission. And perhaps there is a reason why there is nothing like City Provisions.

While I gave everything I had every day of the week to all of my staff, vendors, and guests, in the end I found that sustainability - an undying commitment to what that means - wasn't sustainable. While it looked great from the outside, on the inside we faced many challenges. The praise that hangs on my wall and the Internet speaks to my passion, and that will never change.

I could have bought different milk. Different eggs. I could have used non eco-friendly parchment paper. I could sent everything to landfill. I could have used an inferior product. I could have had a Sysco truck deliver my food and have one person work a deep fryer and microwave. I consciously chose to do things one way. Maybe I was stubborn. I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing.

Real food takes not just passion, but labor. And these numbers add up. The fact is, I put the same level of ingredients and labor into a sandwich, chips and pickle that my colleagues are putting into a $25 entree. Perhaps we, as a community, are not prepared to take on the challenge of a $15 - $20 lunch ticket, but I know I tried to do it the best way, true to my ideals and focused on creating the best product possible.

I made many connections and fostered many relationships that led to great things, which is has always been part of my purpose. I love and have been embraced by the Ravenswood community-but this location simply does not produce the type of foot traffic a business like City Provisions needs to be financially viable.

I cannot fail to mention how amazing, supportive, and committed my entire staff has been. I also want to thank the our guests, from the regulars to those who came in yesterday for the first time.

I have no doubt that my next step will parlay all I have learned and turn into a great move. I fully intend to continue the brand I have built for myself by supporting the local food movement, coming up with unique collaborations, and sharing my Farm Dinner series.

As the future unfolds, I plan to keep pushing the boundaries of the local food movement and keeping you excited about the world I am living in...so stay tuned.

I thank you all for your undying support and look forward to informing you of the next steps.

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