Darlene's Pushes Culinary Envelope Behind Familiar Orland Beginnings

ORLAND PARK, IL — When the owners of Sheep’s Food District decided they needed to pivot their business model after offering area residents and diners a one-stop shop, multi-kitchen restaurant concept all within the confines of a singular space, they decided to lean on something they knew.

But they also wanted it to be more than what people already knew and expected.

Danny and Tony Pappas closed Sheep’s Food District in late January after operating the space at 8888 W. 159th Street for 18 months. The two brothers, who previously owned The Black Sheep in the space before the COVID-19 pandemic and who also run the popular Orland Park elevated breakfast spot, The White Sheep decided that they would continue to focus on offering out-of-the-box breakfast items at their new venture.

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The Pappas brothers gutted and remodeled the space and introduced a new breakfast and lunch just before Mother’s Day. Originally called Delilah’s, the new eatery in the old space was just starting to find its footing when the owners were told that they needed to change the name due to another restaurant under the same name threatening legal action if the Orland Park owners didn’t do a bit of re-branding.

The restaurant remained open during the name transition and has now officially re-introduced itself to the community as Darlene’s. Despite a name change, the two brothers and chef Justen Moser hope a spot that blends comfortable surroundings with elevated menu items can become a staple for diners seeking familiar breakfast favorites with a twist.

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“It was about not really creating competition with White Sheep, but I’m trying to bring an elevated flair to a new concept,” Moser told Patch on Tuesday.
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“That’s the challenge and the opportunity to bring flair to what is turning out to be an excellent restaurant group …At the end of the day, we’re just trying to show something new while still maintaining that comfortability.”

The White Sheep, located at 14355 S. La Grange Road, may be the more established brand, but Darlene’s is just starting to put its foot through the door, Danny Pappas told Patch on Tuesday.

In addition to the elevated breakfast menu that includes European-style crepes and artisanal lunch offerings, Moser has created an eclectic collection of breakfast items that push local diners out of their normal culinary comfort zone. Like with The White Sheep, Darlene’s roasts its own coffee and has a full line of bakery creations – some of which crossover from one menu to the other.

Yet, that’s where the similarities end, Pappas said. Part of the process of pushing the envelope at Darlene’s is allowing Moser — a Las Vegas native who previously worked under the head chef at Chicago culinary gem Alinea — some freedom to create some foundational dishes such as a Marsala omelet and a carbonara pasta made with egg yolk paste and rich creams at the re-imagined space.

“The success of White Sheep really opened the door and created that premier breakfast location,” said Moser, the restaurant group’s director of culinary operations. “But this gives us the chance to take it a step further with Darlene’s.”

Nicole Paxton, the restaurant’s director of operations, said that the rebranding of the former Sheep’s Food District space hasn’t been without its growing pains. Many have a predisposed stigma about the space on 159th Street and still associate the building with what was once inside.

While many residents may still associate the building with the party-driven club that once was housed inside of the building where Darlene’s now sits, the willingness of people to give the space a second chance will go a long way in the business’s success.

“It’s kind of like a negativity surrounds the building itself,” Paxton told Patch. “I would just really like them to see that it’s not like that.”

She added: “It’s just part of us growing up.”

As the two brothers grew out of the party and nightlife atmosphere that they established in The Black Sheep, the idea of shifting to a shorter workday and a menu that focused on breakfast and lunch became more appealing.

But Danny Pappas said that he wanted more of an elevated morning dining experience, he found himself having to drive to places like Oak Brook, Naperville, or Chicago. Without a similar breakfast option available in the Orland Park area, the idea of creating their own space in the market gave the two brothers the premise for introducing White Sheep in 2019.

When that space opened, the two brothers found that local residents were eager for something different. But the idea of stripping away the comfort of traditional breakfast favorites became the challenge.

Moser said he wanted to provide local diners with a memorable dining – and sometimes photo-worthy – experience in which they left talking about what they had just eaten without the stuffiness of a high-end and high-priced restaurant experience. The goal, Moser said, is to create a perfect elevated recipe while still providing customers with tastes and textures to which they can relate.

The Pappas brothers feel like they have struck a perfect balance with their two local spots in an environment where comfortability and elegance go hand-in-hand.

“The thought behind the base of the menu is to create unique items you can’t get anywhere else,” Pappas said. “Therefore, if you like that item, you have to choose one of our restaurants.”

He added: “It is an educational experience. A lot of people do want the (foods) that they grew up with and this is how they know it and this is how they want it. But I want to say it’s a 50-50 split with the people who do want to try new things, but you do have that strong demographic of the people who want their food the way they grew up with. …it’s a trial and error process of how much we can push the envelope.”

While the owners loved the concept of what they were offering at Sheep’s Food District, they found that perhaps the community wasn’t ready for the concept of having four full-service dining options within one space. That led them to think more about just offering breakfast and lunch with the addition of craft cocktails and craft coffee drinks in addition to an upscale culinary collection of menu items that Moser brought to the space.

Some of the cocktail and coffee offerings made their way to the new restaurant concept from The White Sheep, along with the homemade Brioche bread that is the foundation for the eatery’s French toast and the homemade biscuits that are the foundation for Moser’s take on biscuits and gravy.

While evolving out of the nightlight space that once was The Black Sheep and the multi-kitchen Sheep’s Food District has turned into a bit of a rollercoaster ride at times, Tony Pappas feels like he and his group have a winner on their hands – all without competing with another restaurant space that follows the same culinary path.

At the end of the day, the two spots are a small business venture that represents the next step of a long journey for the two brothers who came out of the COVID-19 pandemic just hoping to survive. Although their journey may not have looked like what they expected when they first created a blueprint, the two owners hope a little familiarity can go a long way.

“Some people will say, ‘Aren’t you afraid that you’re too close to the other location?’” Tony Pappas told Patch on Tuesday. “And my go-to answer to this is, compete with yourself and you’ll never lose. If we’re our own enemy, I’m up for it.”

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