The sign on the front door of the Celtic Knot Public House probably took a lot of customers by surprise.
“With heavy hearts,” the owners stated, the Irish Pub would “close at its current location on Sunday, April 30,” thus ending an 18-year run of food, drink, and live music on Church Street, across from the library.
But within several blocks, eleven other eateries have either opened already in recent weeks, or plan to start serving soon.
On the “already open” list: LeTour (Amy Morton’s French/Moroccan restaurant), Thomas & Dutch (the rebranded and more upscale Farmhouse), Fonda Cantina (upscale Mexican, at the site of the former Stained Glass restaurant), Mas Salud (Mexican), and Big Wig Tacos and Burritos (in Church Street Plaza near the Davis Street Metra station).
In the “coming soon” category (based on signage – how soon “coming soon” turns out to be is still TBA): CM Chicken (Davis Street), Egg Harbor breakfast/brunch, and Devil Dawgs (pretty obvious what they serve) – both in the Church Street Plaza, Soli Grill (plant-based food, next to and part of Bat 17 on Benson), and Jamba (smoothies, on Sherman Avenue next to Starbucks).
There’s also a unique category of “open temporarily but planning on a permanent home.”
That’s Mensch’s, a pop-up Jewish-style Deli operating on Saturdays and Sundays for a few more weeks, on Chicago Avenue out of the Picnic take-out restaurant.
Jack DeMar, who owns both, says he expects to open a brick-and-mortar deli, although there is no announcement yet on the location or date.
The restaurant business is notoriously challenging. Some places, like Panera, closed a few years ago and still sit vacant. Diners can be fickle, flocking to one new location and abandoning another.
And there’s always a “churn,” with restaurants coming and going for various reasons.
Still, the city’s Economic Development Manager, Paul Zalmezak, tells Evanston Now that “Thomas & Dutch and LeTour and Fonda Cantina reflect a move toward quality dining and experience. Each is likely making a bet that local and North Shore community members will support their concepts with a future return to office, meetings, [and] daytime lunch crowds….”
The official end of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people going out, and restaurant restrictions now a memory (albeit a painful one) may be a reason for additional optimism in the hospitality industry.
However, Zalmezak notes that “The fast casual/quick carry out [locations] are likely more susceptible to the churn of the industry, especially with a 50% reduction in daytime [downtown] population, thanks to work from home.”
That daytime downturn, Zalmezak says, is one reason the owners of the Celtic Knot decided “it’s time to reduce square footage, staff, and menu offerings.”
There is “no question” Zalmezak says, that “the pandemic forced them to re-invent.”
Which brings us to yet another category: “closed but hoping to reopen elsewhere,” where we circle back to the Celtic Knot.
The “closing” sign also says “We are working with people from the City of Evanston and others to secure an alternative location in the community we love.”
All of this adds up to one final category, in this never-ending saga of add and subtract: “So now what goes into the old Celtic Knot space?”
Let me tell you, upscale dining in Evanston is absolutely top-notch. But let’s not kid ourselves; it’s just lipstick on a pig. Let’s not ignore the underlying challenges that need immediate attention.
Downtown Evanston is dirty. It’s been tarnished by aggressive panhandlers and vagrants, addicts and drunks who’ve turned our parks and sidewalks into their personal territory. The rising crime rate is a cause for concern. And what’s the solution? More defunding the police? That’s just plain nonsense. And don’t even get me started on the outrageous downtown parking fees while our neighbors enjoy the luxury of free parking!
Now, what’s truly troubling is the excessive regulatory burden imposed by the city council on our hardworking businesses.
Want to use a gas stove? Well, tough luck! They’ll tell you it’s not environmentally friendly. And the city requires cash payment options, leaving businesses grappling with outdated practices while the rest of the world embraces electronic transactions. After all, how are the underbanked, Alderman Reid’s newest victim class, expected to pay for a $60 Black Angus steak at Le Tour?
Do you need to adjust an employee’s schedule? Brace yourself for bureaucratic red tape and be sure to give the employee two-week notice of the change.
And let’s not forget the rampant panhandling issue. It’s high time we address it instead of labeling those who raise concerns as racists or anti-poor. That’s just a shameful attempt to stifle honest discourse.
Yes, we see an influx of restaurants in Evanston, but to truly build a resilient city, we need a diverse economy. That means a healthy mix of restaurants, retail stores, and thriving business offices like law firms, accounting firms, and financial institutions. This diversity strengthens our community and reduces dependence on a single industry. A study by Ohio State University found that approximately 57% of restaurants fail within the first three years of operation.
It deeply frustrates me to witness Evanston’s potential squandered due to poor leadership. The nine aldermen, the mayor, and the city manager have a duty to fulfill, and they must rise to the occasion. It’s time they prioritize the betterment of Evanston over their personal or political agendas.
If I was in charge (and I so wish I were) I would champion pro-business policies, cut through bureaucratic red tape, and ensure that Evanston becomes the vibrant, prosperous city it’s meant to be. We need leaders who understand that the success of the city lies in the hands of its hardworking citizens, not in excessive regulations or political posturing.
This person got to the real issues of what is wrong with downtown Evanston. I was an Evanstonian for years beginning in 1968. We loved the community. We moved to Glenview because of personal circumstances unrelated to the above issues in 1992, always coming back to movies, restaurants, the dentist, art fairs, etc. I saw the changes. I could deal with most. I now avoid coming to the events and restaurants due to the stupid parking. The cost and how to use those meters is too much. It isn’t doable or easy. I can go to a number of communities for a meal or art fair that is user friendly and less costly.
I now avoid going to the community I always loved for shopping or entertainment. All the reasons mentioned by others.
Paul and Anita have concisely described the self imposed destruction of a once great city by inexperienced and incompetent elected city leadership, in just 24 months.
It is very sad to witness.
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