It was exactly 40 years ago, Oct. 13, 1983, that Hecky Powell risked what little money he had at the time to open a take-out barbecue restaurant at Emerson and Green Bay.
On this Oct. 13, Hecky’s celebrated the anniversary, with balloons, free cupcakes, and yes, with a bit of sadness, because Powell was not here for the big day.
He died in 2022, at age 71.
“It was very hard when he passed,” said Cheryl Judice, Powell’s widow and now the owner of the restaurant.
But Judice kept at it. The restaurant made it through the pandemic, and Judice said she has Evanston to thank.
“We are a community business and are community focused,” Judice explained.
Hecky was a community activist, serving on the District 65 school board and as head of the local NAACP chapter.
He was popular, and his restaurant has remained so as well.
“Evanston is a very supportive community,” Judice said.
If Hecky’s was observing 40 years in business, the new Evanston Corner Bistro was observing Day One, also on Friday the 13th.
Countering the usual superstition surrounding this date, co-owner Nicole Quaisser said “Friday the 13th is a lucky day for us.”
The Bistro is in the site vacated by Thomas & Dutch, the upscale eatery that closed on Oct. 8, after only about six months in business.
Quaisser said her crew was able to quickly get the new restaurant, located in the Orrington Hotel building, ready for diners.
“We got it turned around in four-and-a-half days,” she said.
Quaisser and her husband, Stephan Outrequin, own LM Restaurant Group. LM stands for Luc and Mary, their children.
LM already has two bistro restaurants in Chicago hotels, and her company was actually considering a space at the other end of the Orrington when the Thomas and Dutch spot became available.
“I always wanted to be in Evanston and in a hotel,” Quaisser explained.
The Evanston Bistro will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week.
With a more moderate price point than its predecessor, and its hotel location, Qauisser said that Orrington guests, downtown residents and Northwestern students as well as downtown office workers are potential customers.
And in that sense, her timing is good.
While downtown office occupancy is still not it was pre-pandemic, more than 150 downtown workers will be coming soon to the new Underwriters Laboratories offices in the Chase Bank building.
Plus, more workers from a completely new structure, Evanston Labs, now going up next to the Orrington, will also help.
Andy Vick, executive director of the Downtown Evanston marketing group, said that the Labs building could see 400+ new workers over the next few years.
Vick said employees in both buildings “will have a significant and positive financial impact on the restaurants and businesses in Downtown Evanston.”
The restaurant business is known for “high churn,” lots of start-ups, lots of shut-downs, and different reasons for both.
For example, the chocolate and pastry shop, Noir d’Ebene, on Chicago Avenue, is closing because the owner is moving to Key West.
Lush, a restaurant/bar on Central Street closed recently, with no reasons posted.
And Shangri-La, an Indochinese restaurant on Davis Street downtown, is moving to Glenview.
On the upside, besides the Evanston Corner Bistro, the Bitter Blossom bar has opened in the AMC theater building.
Two other restaurants, also in Church Street Plaza, Egg Harbor and Devil Dawgs, are on the way.
Not far away from those two spots, on Benson, Soli Grill is scheduled to open on Oct. 17. It’s next to Bat-17, with the same owners. Soli Grill’s food will be entirely plant-based, and it will have a separate kitchen from Bat-17.
And while this was Day One for the Bistro, it is also year 100 for the Orrington Hotel.
Quaisser said a table used for pastry making when the hotel opened has been preserved and is now a dining table at the Bistro.
And as for the Friday the 13th thing, well, you can draw your own conclusions on that.
When Hecky’s opened in 1983, Oct. 13 was a Thursday.
Maybe Hecky’s has lasted so long because the 13th was not a Friday.
Or maybe, there’s another reason:
“It’s the Sauce.”