Michael Jordan’s Restaurant

Oak Brook, IL

Michael Jordan’s newest restaurant in the Chicago suburbs is a melding of his flagship steak house in downtown with his cafe in Connecticut, reimagined as upscale and comfortable dining. Given Jordan’s well documented career, the design could have easily become a kitschy theme of memorabilia. Instead, the design team worked to convey an authentic story of Jordan in a simple yet sophisticated way.

On a busy street, hidden behind the landscape and sandwiched between two office towers, the location was not ideal. To improve visibility and distinguish the restaurant in a significant way, the facade became a statement piece referencing the basketball icon’s famous flight to the hoop.  The design team conceived and modeled the “swoop” in house, then worked closely with a local fabricator in their shop during testing, fabrication and assembly. The “swoop” is supported by metal framework clad in perforated metal sheets resembling the texture of a basketball, and rotated to create an ascendant rhythm. It begins with gentle curving and slow twisting along the patio length then dramatically torques up to a peak above the entry. A ribbon of red appears and disappears within the curvature. The signage simply reads “M.J” in bold letters.

Inside, the story unfolds with key design features functionally dividing the long space into different seating and service areas. At the hostess station, a shimmering backdrop draws attention to its brushed metal screen punched with holes of random sizes. Seen from a distance it reveals a macro view of the dimples and seams on a basketball. Hidden behind is a small service station.

The two main dining areas are divided by a service bar conveniently placed for greater efficiency. Surrounding the bar is a “wall of fame” where photos of Jordan seemingly float and bend, defying gravity much like Jordan himself. One dining area has a mix of traditional and club seating for a more lounge like atmosphere and can be extended by opening the doors to the private dining room. In a nod to Jordan’s professional baseball days, the club seating is custom made from ultra soft leather like the leather on a baseball and upholstered in a design reminiscent of the fingers in an actual mitt. Peeling back another layer, the light fixtures in the dining room evolved from an innocent question: what would it feel like to be inside a basketball? That inspiration resulted in the giant gold domes hovering above the tables. The second dining space is similar the first with the exception it is has views into the kitchen and its “wall of fame” hugs a banquette separating the dining from the hostess station.

On the other side of the hostess station is the bar. Its walls are finished with salvaged basketball court flooring from Penn State and from which hang two banks of lockers showcasing a few of Jordan’s namesake shoes among other personal items. Adding a pop of warm color, the bar chairs have custom orange leather cushions, the classic basketball hue. Because the bar and hostess station overlap, a custom metal railing designed with a pattern of unwrapped basketballs divides the two functions, keeping the lobby queue organized and the bar table-service fluid.

By dividing the dining, hostess and bar functions in a linear fashion, the design needed to avoid feeling chopped up and potentially causing service gaps. The “wall of fame” became a key feature helped organize the space, provided critical transparency and became a point of interest for guests to muse the stories behind the photos. In fact, the “wall” is not a wall at all.  It is a simple metal frame designed to showcase multiple sizes of framed photos that float displaying moments in Jordan’s life, both the ordinary and the extraordinary. The team designed the framing system and worked with a fabricator to build the frame walls.  Photos were hand selected from the collection of the Chicago Bulls official photographer, Bill Smith, and carefully detailed the framing, particularly those with a corner condition.

With powerful and recognizable effect, the “swoop” now defines the Michael Jordan’s restaurant brand. Furthermore, because the long swoop begins over the original office building entry, it visually becomes the “M.J’s” restaurant building instead of the “address” building. People understand what the swoop is before they even know the story. Inside, the “wall of fame” feature weaves through the restaurant and wraps around seating as a conversation piece. The photos themselves tell a story and challenge guests to discover those stories, feeling smart when they figure it out. These defining elements give the restaurant brand a new energy and excitement.