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A Fabled Bucktown Fine Dining Space Goes Casual Thanks to a Greek Chef

Former Nisos chef Avgeria Stapaki will soon open Tama inside Michelin-starred Claudia’s former home

Coming Attractions Eater/Getty

It’s been four years since chef Avgeria Stapaki left Greece for Chicago where she landed in Fulton Market helming the kitchen at Nisos. But she soon departed the restaurant in May 2023 and has spent the last eight months plotting a comeback.

Stapaki will soon reemerge with an energetic new contender within Chicago’s increasingly competitive Mediterranean restaurant scene. In February, Tama will replace Michelin-starred Claudia at 1952 N. Damen Avenue in Bucktown. It’s a project designed to bring both casual comfort and creative artistry inside a space that’s hosted a long line of fine dining restaurants.

After beginning her career at celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant in Athens, Stapaki worked in professional kitchens throughout Europe, eventually taking over the Principote Mykonos beach club. That’s where she met Brad Parker, owner of Chicago-based Parker Hospitality, the company behind national chain The Hampton Social.

Brad Parker and Avgeria Stapaki pose, unsmiling, inside a restaurant dining room.
Chef Avgeria Stapaki (right) previously worked with Brad Parker (left) at Nisos.
Parker Hospitality

Parker brought Stapaki stateside in 2019 to open Nisos, a splashy modern Mediterranean restaurant and one of 2022’s most high-profile openings. But by May 2023, the group announced they’d closed Nisos for an overhaul — it’s now a steakhouse. The move pulled the rug out from under Stapaki as the chef was building a new life in Chicago, where she met her girlfriend. Upon reflection, Stapaki says the firing provided an opportunity to pursue her vision in a way she finds deeply meaningful. Parker said Nisos’ menu was too complex for the neighborhood and the steakhouse represented getting back to basics.

“I don’t have bad feelings about my previous partners, we’re not just compatible,” Stapaki says. “I feel like myself again as a chef and artist — I feel free to choose what I want to cook and free to choose which clientele I want in my restaurant.”

Stapaki shares ownership with Adalberto Olaez, her former chef de cuisine at Nisos who has also cooked at Lao Peng You, Boeufhaus, and now-shuttered GreenRiver in Streeterville. The duo aims to take a wide view of global cuisine with an emphasis on Mediterranean regions and plenty of room for innovation. The menu, which is nearing completion, promises surprises like avgolemono ramen, an unusual spin on the traditional Greek lemon soup. Instead of rice, Tama’s team will use noodles made on-site. Stapaki also teases creations like maitake mushrooms grilled with soya and citrus, as well as Swiss chard dolma with tabbouleh and beurre blanc. There’s a decidedly vegetarian bent to the dishes, but meat eaters won’t be short on options. Stapaki is Greek, after all.

“The reason we cook this way is because we want to use everything there is out there — no limits,” she says. “For me, cooking is an art that has everything. You’re like a painter, you’re like a sculptor — it’s a very complicated job. But I [feel] again like I can create from my heart, which is very important... We want this restaurant of course to be successful, but the need of an artist is to show to the public what she does.”

For Stapaki and Olaez, that liberation looks like a neighborhood restaurant that leverages fine dining techniques and competitive prices with a meal and a glass of wine adding up to about $65. Stapaki envisions a bustling, come-as-you-are atmosphere, which will mark a stark departure from the space’s previous fine dining tenants, including Claudia, troubled spot Stone Flower, Stephanie Izard’s Scylla, and Takashi Yagihashi’s eponymous Japanese restaurant.

Stapaki wanted to bring more life into the space with a colorful palette that draws on terra cotta and vivid blue hues associated with Mexico and Morocco. Customers can also expect plant life like flowers and olive trees, which may come as a relief to diners when Tama opens amid the winter doldrums after Valentine’s Day.

The exterior of a converted residence turned restaurant with white shingles.
Tama’s future home.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

The past several years have presented enormous challenges for Stapaki, who arrived in the U.S. just a month before the pandemic began. Her mother, still in Greece, died after a heart attack. COVID-restricted international travel forced Stapaki to mourn from a distance.

But throughout the peaks and valleys of this era, Stapaki has found a path forward — one she attributes to her own culture that’s immortalized in the restaurant's name, which refers to a votive offering used in Eastern Orthodox Churches. “[As] Greeks, we make a tama when we want something to happen, so I went to church and made a tama,” she says.

Within a month, Stapaki and Olaez found out they had secured the Bucktown restaurant space. “That’s why [its] name is Tama — an offering or a promise for something to happen when someone needs help or a miracle. I’m very moved.”

Tama, 1952 N. Damen Avenue, planned for February opening.