People who frequently walk down 57th Street in Hyde Park are accustomed to the smells coming from Medici: bread toasting in the oven and freshly brewed coffee. With an eclectic menu ranging from soups to pizza and burgers, the longstanding Medici is the smell of home for some residents.
“I’ve been coming here for 41 years,” said Lisa Pilot, a Hyde Park native. “We all come here for the ambiance, the food and the people. The people here are great. You can really get a good feel of what Hyde Park is like.”
Medici started off 50 years ago by Hans Morsbach as a small coffee shop behind the Green Door bookshop in Hyde Park. The coffee shop moved down the street in 1989 when business began booming.
Ten years later, the space next to the restaurant became vacant and was soon turned into a bakery for fast take out, specialty croissants, and, of course, good coffee. While the place has expanded to be bigger and better, the unique décor and style that first made it famous has stayed the same.
“The old location was just down the street,” Pilot said. “They still have the benches we used to carve our names on as kids.”
Graffiti covers the walls, tables and booths inside the restaurant. While many leave just a name, others have etched song lyrics and sayings into the wood creating permanent memories.
“A lot of the booths are the same,” said Kirsten Esterly, a manager at Medici for more than 15 years. “They were moved down from the old shop. The booths themselves have morphed as time went by.”
“He used to come in with his kids and wife regularly,” Esterly said. “He lived just blocks away. Malia’s signature is right upstairs. There are different shirts around here we all wear. There was an ‘Obama Eats Here’ and now there is one that reads ‘Obama Ate Here.’”
Hundreds of paintings and sculptures bring life to the walls of Medici, but one large statue steals most of the spotlight.
“The statue in the front rotates on a platform,” Esterly said. “She makes one revolution an hour. Our previous owner, who passed away last year, picked her up in Germany. She is an indian temple guard. Most of the artwork, although quirky, is by very renowned artists.”
Just a couple blocks from 57th and S. Kimbark Avenue is the sprawling University of Chicago campus.
“We all come here for the convenience,” said Chantel Jarris, a student at the University of Chicago, just blocks away from Medici. “This is my first time coming here, but it’s very renowned on campus. It’s close to school and is known for great food.”
With customers packing the restaurant and bakery at all times of the day, Medici hardly gets any break from business.
“We have slowly grown,” Esterly said. “We haven’t tried to be more than we are. We strive to offer good food at a moderate price.”