Having written about Chicago's culinary scene for at least 15 years, this writer has covered all sorts of spotsfrom Michelin-starred upscale establishments to those so-called "holes in the wall" that can serve some of the best comfort food you've experienced.
However, it's safe to say that I had never visited a spot like Willies 'n Waffles (3706 N. Halsted St.; www.eatwillies.com ).
Your first clue about the uniqueness of this spot can be found in any number of signs prominently displayed, such as "It's not gonna lick itself." There's also a jar on the counter with the provocative label "Just the tip" as well as a bell with the sign "Ring for sex." (If only it were that easy.)
And I honestly can't even repeat some of the menu items without blushing (even on a computer that's miles away from Willies 'n Waffles). While ordering jumbo wings may seem innocent enough, some of the varieties (such as Cock Fighter and Gar-lick Me) may make one pause. The tenderswhich are absolutely delightful, by the wayare accompanied by fries or tots, but d-ck cheese is $2. The handheld items include a Cock Meat Sandwich, BooBie-Q Chicken and even a Breakfist Pocket, among other items. Under sweets, there are two main categorieswhich are both named after and resemble genitalia, with flavors such as Cookies 'n C-m, Money Shot and Porn Star. (See? I can't even type the names out here.)
In addition to all that, founder/president Michal Papierz was entertaining patrons as he prepared their dishes. The customers all had their phones out as he said lines like, "Let's get that raspberry sauce all up and down the shaft." Basically, it's a performancethe culinary equivalent of pole dancing (which is a phrase Papierz agreed with when I told him about it).
Papierz is very proud that his establishment is pushing the envelope regarding sexuality, even if his background might be a bit unexpected for some, as he graduated summa cum laude from DePaul University in 2021 with a B.S. in neuroscience.
Even when talking about the basics of food preparation, Papierz was exuberantand flirty. "When we buy chicken, we buy the entire tenderloin and we cut it ourselves," he said, stressing that each dish is made to order on the spot. "The texture is so juicy, so perfect. And then we brine it for 24 hours and then put it in our dredge mix, which has twentysomething spices in it. And our fries are soaked in a brine for 24 hours, too; everything is always wet and soaking."
So how does someone go from studying science to owning such an establishment? Papierz was as honest as one would expect him to be: "I don't know. I'm just very impulsive and I always knew I wanted to be a business owner; I just didn't know what kind of business.
"I thought maybe I would be a doctor with my own practice. Then I watched my ex go through medical school and I was, like, 'I know I'm going to love being a doctor and I'd love the patients'but the training terrified me. I worked so hard through college, got really great grades and scored really well on the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test]and then I decided I didn't want to do it for eight more years."
However, Papierz's ex (possibly unknowingly) helped him find another career direction: "My ex showed me this d-ck waffle concept on TikTok. So I went to Spain, Copenhagen and Brusselsand was massively disappointed. European customer service just wasn't that good and some of these places were tourist traps, so the customer service was even worse there.
"Plus, the waffles didn't even taste that good. I decided then and there that if I open a spot, the waffles would not be a gimmick. I'm going to have a real executive chef [Gabriel Babcockseriously] make the menu."
Talking about the business made me wonder how getting a business loan went down, so to speakbut Papierz had a surprising answer. "I actually didn't get a business loan," he said. "Ever since I was 18, I was blessed with a Discover card that I didn't use at all. Over time, I built up great credit and I applied for business credit cards. Those cards, along with some cryptocurrency investments, pay for most of the business."
Something else people may not know is that this isn't Papierz's first iteration of Willies 'n Waffles. "In 2022, we partnered with this ice-cream shop that allowed us to do a pop-up shop from May to October. That was an interesting relationship because the owner got into a huge legal battle with a neighbor and he [allegedly committed crimes], so the neighbors ran him out and we had to shut down. So from October to last spring [in 2023], I did a lot of soul-searching. I wanted to make sure that I was completely okay with not going into medicine."
But while soul-searching, fate stepped in. Papierz met Kit Kat Lounge owner Ramesh Ariyanayakam at the gym. Ariyanayakam also owned Filipino taqueria Flip Sigi, the business previously at the Willie's 'n Waffles location.
"I told [Ariyanayakam] that I was trying to partner with Kit Kat last yearand he said he would have a deal for me," Papierz recalled. He would sell Flip Sigi with all the equipment as well as the food and liquor licenses. So we're operating as Flip Sigi doing business as Willies 'n Waffles."
However, going back to Papierz's routine/performance… Does anyone get so caught up that they think he's really flirting with them? "It happens all the time," he said. "There was only one time where there was mutual interest. I'm not going to come on to them."
And what's the message for those who might be, ahem, too shy to order? "Life is too short," said Papierz, who revealed that he might soon change the name of the place to just Williesand who also said he'd love to see the spot become a chain a la Insomnia Cookies. "Life also gets boring really easily. Let's have some fun. I just want to deliver joy and smiles. Someone might be going through a hard timebut every time we greet someone with our energy, they smile."
Or maybe it's just seeing a d-ck waffle.
Note: This visit was arranged.
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