After being open for almost one year, the Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern continues to put a diverse twist on traditional barbecue.
Owner Kavan Shay graduated with a finance degree from the University of Illinois-Champaign in 2010 and worked in the finance industry in Chicago for five years. However, Shay said he knew his original passion was always food.
“I have been cooking and had an interest in food for about 20 years,” Shay said. “I wasn’t getting nearly the personal fulfillment as I wanted to out of the finance career I was undertaking.”
Shay said he started to seriously consider opening his restaurant three years ago and continued planning until the tavern opened in April 2015.
However, Shay’s restaurant doesn’t serve traditional barbecue. He said the menu items are inspired by different cultural influences in order to make them stand out from other barbecue places.
According to the tavern’s website, its name is inspired by the movie “Billy Madison.” In the film, Madison colors a duck blue because he wants to see an everyday fowl in a different color, which relates to Shay’s mission of standing out.
“I wanted to open a barbecue place, but I didn’t want to be boxed in by being a traditional barbecue joint,” Shay said. “Our menu has a lot of Asian and Mexican influences, so we could use our food in fun ways that you are not going to see anywhere else.”
Shay said he took influences from some of his favorite restaurants in Chicago, tweaked them and brought them to the Blue Duck.
One of the popular dishes with an original spin is Asian tacos. Another is the Bahn Mi, a brisket sandwich inspired by the Vietnamese sandwich of the same name.
“Being able to serve the community in the form of a restaurant was probably the best chance that I had of using my personal skills to make a positive impact on people’s days,” Shay said.
Located on the Riverfront at 212 Southwest Water St., Shay said he hopes the restaurant will regenerate the downtown area.
“My original goal is to be a part of the revitalization of the downtown,” Shay said. “It has been a good relationship [between] us and the surrounding areas.”
Shay said the purpose for his restaurant has always been to serve great food and create excellent experiences for his customers.
“To come up with an original concept, to execute it and to have people really enjoy it has been really personally gratifying for me,” Shay said. “To be able to talk to the customers that come in and enjoy the meal, the time and the service that they’re having is the most gratifying part.”