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SN EXTRA: Don’t Call It a Food Court

SN EXTRA: Don’t Call It a Food Court

Robert Mayer is head chef at the new Wilde & Greene Restaurant and Natural Market, the world’s first in-mall dining and green grocer specialty food shopping venue that just opened inside the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie, Ill.

The 30,000-square-foot space — with its 18 action stations, organic, seasonal, local and sustainably sourced products — replaces the mall’s old food court. The developers, Canada’s Richtree Market Restaurants, are calling the trendsetting concept an “unmatched and engaging experience” in mall dining.

Mayer, who oversaw development of the menu, expects the restaurant to serve 3,000 meals each day, while the marketplace portion entices customers with more than 5,000 SKUs.

SN: Are Americans ready for healthy eating at the mall?

MAYER: People are saturated by what they can get in typical food courts. We’ve only been open two days but people are coming through the doors and visibly happy to see all the variety. There’s so much more of the same everywhere else. This is different.

SN: Is there pizza on the menu? Sub sandwiches? Stir fry?

MAYER: I am looking at the stir-fry station right now, and here’s how it’s different. We have at least 12 fresh vegetables ready to chop, four proteins, including tofu, four sauces to choose from and either the “oodle” noodles, white rice noodles, steamed rice or brown rice. And we cook it right in front of your nose.

SN: What do you consider to be the most indulgent item on the menu?

MAYER: You can start in our restaurant with dessert, crepes or gelato, and nobody looks at you funny. You can eat 365 days here and not eat exactly the same thing.

SN: How are you educating customers about Wilde & Greene’s mission? What kinds of employees are required?

MAYER: We always like to joke that we are the Disneyland of restaurants because everything is on stage, the chef is entertaining you while he cooks, and if you are really nice to us we tell you the secret of how we do it. We cook for smiles. Our associates are really the secret ingredient to all our success. Happy people cook good food.

SN: What’s emerged as the most popular item so far?

MAYER: The pasta station is a popular stop because we have our own pasta machine, and we make pasta fresh all day long. Semolina, water, flour and eggs — that’s all that goes into it. It comes out of the machine and drops into boiling water. Two minutes later, you are eating fresh pasta.

SN: What’s your personal favorite?

MAYER: That’s a tough question because I designed all the recipes and put them all together here. They’re all my favorites.

Wilde & Greene Restaurant and Natural Market is located inside Westfield Old Orchard, 4905 Old Orchard Centre, Skokie, Ill. The main restaurant and natural market are open 7:30 a.m.-midnight, seven days a week; rooftop patio is open 11 a.m. till 10 p.m.