Picnic, on Chicago Avenue, is one of several new restaurants downtown.

Several new restaurants specializing in food to go are hoping they are here to stay in downtown Evanston.

The eateries have opened within the past few weeks, and more are expected soon.

And while the facilities represent a variety of concepts, the idea of “sprouts” and other salad/vegan/vegetarian options is clearly filling the bowl of customer choices.

“The healthy food movement is here to stay because the demand is so strong,” says Annie Coakley, executive director of the Downtown Evanston marketing organization.

One of the newest is called Picnic, in the 1600 block of Chicago Avenue.

Owner Jack Demar, says Picnic “serves the kind of food that I eat,” such as whole grains, salads, and custom-made bowls.

While neither totally vegetarian nor vegan, such options are available at Picnic, which is take-out or delivery only.

“It’s fast and reasonably priced, but not a burger or pizza,” Demar says.

Demar already owns the Pono Ono Poke restaurant across the street, and says “I have confidence in the Evanston market.”

While Picnic is a chain of one (or two if you count Pono Ono), a 228-restaurant chain called Sweetgreen opened a similarly themed “fresh/casual” location a few blocks away, in the Fountain Square building. Based in Los Angeles, Sweetgreen also has dine-in services.

A totally vegan restaurant, Elephant and Vine, opened earlier in the spring on Church Street.

And an establishment which says it will “make you feel like you are sitting in a dining room in Osaka with some strange,but welcoming family that you just met,” Tomo Japanese Street Food, opened recently in the 1700 block of Sherman.

More international flavor has come with 5411 Argentinian empanadas. The Church Street location is the group’s fourth restaurant, and is primarily take-out. The first three locations are in Chicago. “5411” is the international dialing code for Buenos Aires.

5411 empanadas on Church Street.

Of course, all new restaurants are hoping to see lots of green, as in cash, not necessarily as in salad.

Food service is a high-risk, high-turnover business.

Chicago-based Dollop Coffee is finally supposed to open its long-awaited cafe in the Albion apartment building on Sherman Avenue within a couple of weeks.

Dollop “coming soon” to Albion building on Sherman Ave.

Just the announcement last year of a chain moving to town caused locally-owned Backlot Coffee across the street to close. The managers replaced it with a plant store.

The Albion building is also getting another restaurant, this one serving more traditional fare such as burgers, tacos, and main course entrees, based on the menu of a partner facility.

Coakley says owners of the Little Bad Wolf in Chicago have filed a permit application for a restaurant called the Good Wolf.

No schedule has been announced, but despite the challenges of the restaurant industry and the smaller number of downtown office workers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Coakley says “Evanston still has cachet” for new dining spots.

“People still go ‘oooh, Evanston,'” she adds.

In fact, just because there are many locations with similar food or drink menus, that does not block others from coming in with basically the same product.

Moge Tee, another variation on the bubble tea theme, is now in the 1500 block of Sherman. It’s part of a New York-based chain.

So downtown Evanston is seeing a lot of new restaurant choices, even if several have similar menus to other places a few streets away.

The owner of Picnic says the competition doesn’t worry him.

“It’s validation that a chain as big as Sweetgreen opened here,” says Jack Demar.

“I’m not afraid of Sweetgreen. I like a David vs. Goliath story.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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