In the kitchen

Chef Josh Vaughn and his girlfriend/business partner Catherine “Cat” Hilgeman are working together to move Chef Vaughn’s Kitchen to a new location in Bourbonnais.

Before he became Chef Vaughn, Josh Vaughn was a 12-year-old kid who simply loved to cook.

His passion for culinary creations began just before he became a Kankakee teenager and now he is about to open his first stand-alone restaurant, Chef Vaughn’s Kitchen, at 161 E. Bethel Drive in Bourbonnais.

This will be the location where diners can cozy up to Chef Vaughn’s ”Famous Alfredo.” (That’s with homemade alfredo sauce.)

Vaughn is targeting an early January opening at the site which had previously been the Bourbonnais home of JR’s Chicken. Though its Bourbonnais location closed in May, the restaurant’s Kankakee location remains open.

Vaughn, 38, of Kankakee, has a two-year lease on the property.

When he relocates to the Bethel Drive location, he will be closing his restaurant in the Northfield Square mall food court. Vaughn has been operating out of the food court for about two years.

The 2001 graduate of Kankakee High School is trying to control his excitement about moving into what he hopes will the first of many Chef Vaughn’s Kitchen sites.

Vaughn recalled his early days as a cook. While his mother and father worked night shifts, he often found himself in the kitchen cooking. He was making grilled cheese sandwiches or heating up leftovers. He was creating lavish meals or experimenting with concepts of his own.

A former employee of BASF in Kankakee, he said he simply couldn’t see himself working in a manufacturing role when he had such love for cooking.

He started his business from his home kitchen. As he prepared unique dishes, he shared them with family and friends. People became so impressed with his skills that he was asked if he would prepare meals for their special occasions.

He did. One thing led to another and soon he was becoming a caterer.

A new future was becoming clear to him, and he seized upon an opportunity that presented itself nearly two years ago.

While the Northfield food court became empty, mall management opened itself to anyone looking to establish a restaurant. Chef Vaughn took the chance and opened Chef Vaughn’s Kitchen in February 2019.

His food has been well received at the mall, but there is simply not enough foot traffic to make a restaurant successful, he says. He sought out locations and customers often offered suggestions as well.

The former JR’s site is perfect, he said. There is seating for 24, and in the summertime there is outdoor seating as well.

He and his girlfriend/business partner, Catherine “Cat” Hilgeman, of Chebanse, hope to be open in early January.

“The mall was a great start, but the new location will be a place where we can do more,” she said. “We will be so much busier. This is exciting. We can’t wait.”

The couple plans to expand the menu, but final details have not been fully ironed out. They are considering adding menu options such as some soul food items or a weekend combination of chicken and waffles.

They also expect to be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The location will offer carry-out as well as a delivery service.

The restaurant duo said they can hardly wait for the new year so they can get busy making Chef Vaughn’s Kitchen one of the area’s go-to locations.

“The new place will be more work, but we are going to do it,” Vaughn said. “We are totally optimistic.”

This has been a plan some 27 years in the making when that 12-year-old boy created meals in his mother’s kitchen.

The Daily Journal’s Lee Provost writes about local business rumors, comings and goings and other notes of interest. Anyone with information to share should contact Provost at lprovost@daily-journal.com or 815-937-3364.

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.