Navy Pier Begins Its Restaurant Upscale As Bubba Gump Becomes The First To Go Under

Bubba Gump on Navy Pier will give way to a new Art Smith restaurant

Elliot McGowan Elliot McGowan

Navy Pier Begins Its Restaurant Upscale As Bubba Gump Becomes The First To Go Under

Bubba Gump walks the plank and Riva Crabhouse awaits its fate.

After almost a quarter of a century since it first opened, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co on Navy Pier has closed its doors permanently. While the entire pier has shut down for fall and winter to save on operating costs, sources say Bubba Gump’s fate was unrelated to the global pandemic. The seafood restaurant has been serving visitors near the pier’s main entrance for 24 years but has now closed for good after lease renewals were rejected in favor of a southern restaurant run by celebrity chef Art Smith.

Many Chicagoans will struggle to remember a Navy Pier without the familiar Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The Forrest Gump-inspired restaurant chain debuted in Monterrey, California back in 1996 just two years after the film first premiered. That same year Bubba Gump opened on Chicago’s Navy Pier as part of a huge remodel that also saw the installation of the pier’s first Ferris wheel.

This time around it looks like Bubba Gump finds itself on the receiving end of a remodel as Navy Pier seeks to diversify its restaurant scene for when it reopens in Spring of 2021. The management is reportedly keen to focus on authentic Chicago dining experiences and Art Smith’s Reunion restaurant will better align with that vision.

According to Jeff Cantwell, who works for the parent company behind the Bubba Gump Shrimp chain, Bubba Gump would be staying at Navy Pier if they could but Navy Pier chose not to renew their lease. Art Smith has instead been tasked with recreating Walt Disney World Florida’s Art Smith’s Homecomin’ restaurant. As the childhood home of Walt Disney Smith said there was no better place to recreate the magic.

It isn’t the only restaurant to walk the plank either. Riva Crabhouse is claiming a dispute over rent has also put its own fate up in the air and though they hope to reopen in Spring, they are currently unsure of where their future lies.

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