Restaurant owners interviewed by Evanston Now say city approval of new downtown development projects is crucial to the continued success of the city’s dining scene.

Brian Huston, owner of Boltwood at 804 Davis St., says the dynamic of downtown has changed a lot in just the three years since Boltwood opened, with more dining choices.

“Now we have every cuisine and every style of restaurant to meet any diner’s craving,” Huston said, and that’s made it hard for restaurants to stay in business.

Robert Strom.

Robert Strom says his Prairie Moon restaurant at 1502 Sherman Ave. got the 13th liquor license in town when it opened in 1985. “Now there’s a hundred plus.”

“The competition has been very fierce in recent years,” Strom says, “And the population hasn’t grown that much.”

Edward Carrella, who operates the Tommy Nevin’s and Pete Miller’s restaurants downtown, says that just from the proposed 287-unit Albion Residential development, restaurants within a block or two, like Pete Miller’s, could see a 20 percent increase in business.

The Albion project would require demolition of both Nevin’s and Prairie Moon. Carrella doesn’t plan to reopen Nevin’s. But Strom plans to open a new Prairie Moon in the base of the Albion building.

Dan Kelch, who owns LuLu’s, Taco Diablo and Five & Dime at 1026 Davis St., said residents who claim to want to “preserve the character” of downtown by rejecting new development have forgotten how dead the area was before.

When he was painting his first restaurant prior to opening on Davis Street 25-years ago, Kelch said, he took a break on a beautiful summer Friday or Saturday evening, sat out front on the curb drinking a beer and realized there were zero people on the sidewalk and no cars parked in front of the store.

“I asked my wife, ‘Did we just make the biggest mistake of our lives?’ deciding to open a business here,” Kelch recalled.

Dan Kelch.

“Look at downtown streets today. They’re filled with people and activity,” Kelch said. “You’ll hear some people say that development has ruined downtown — but who the heck filled all these buildings? People have seen the new development and said, ‘This is great, I’m going to live here.’”

Edward Carrella.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Carrella said. “You can’t block the residential development and expect to have the businesses that people want. Development is needed so the town can prosper.”

And, as other north suburban towns start to develop restaurant scenes of their own, the restaurateurs say, local business from Evanston residents becomes even more important to restaurants here.

Strom said well over 50 percent of Prairie Moon’s everyday diners come from the 60201 zip code and another 30 percent or more live in 60202 or 60203.

The rest, he said, come mostly from other North Shore communities, but very few from Chicago — where many neigbhorhoods have their own dining scenes.

Kelch said that while the new residential developments will feature fancy kitchens, many residents won’t use them much — and are attracted to the opportunities downtown offers to eat out within walking distance.

Each person’s going to eat close to 1,100 meals a year, he added, representing that many additional opportunities for downtown restaurants to increase their business.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Nevin’s

    “The Albion project would require demolition of both Nevin’s and Prairie Moon. Carrella doesn’t plan to reopen Nevin’s.”


    Losing Nevin’s would be a big loss. I’d thought previous articles said they woulld re-open.

    As I recall when Davis Fishmart closed, it was said others [fish I’d hope] were interested in moving in there. That has to have been 6-12 months ago.


  2. Evanstonian

    The problem that old Evanstonian’s have is that there is no vision for the city as a whole. We liked Evanston the way it was, the neighborhoods had restaurants and stores that are in walking distance. If you wanted to see a show or book store you went to the downtown area.  Now what happens is the city gets built up in one area and the other areas, then go down.  Just look at the area where the movie theater is located.  Its dead around there, restaurants can’t make it, because there are too many.   As Strom indicated that the population hasn’t grown.  More importantly, the population isn’t going to grow.  Let’s not bring up the Northwestern students, who come and go.  They’re not permanent, hell they don’t even pay property taxes.  Evanston wants development but what do the city planners do, well they restrict EVERY street down to one lane.  The city is a parking lot most of the time.  Who would want to come here to eat or go to a theater.  I go out of the city for those reasons.  If Evanston had a cohesive vision, perhaps long time residents wouldn’t reject development.  As it stands we get these fly by the seat of your pants developers come and develop a building for that parcel only.  No regard for height of builidngs.  We live in Evanston because we don’t want to live in Chicago.  As it is now, we will move to Wilmette, get away from the mini version of Chicago, called Evanston.  Too bad Heavenston is gone.

  3. Say No to Mismatched Buildings

     While I am not opposed to new development, I am opposed to the schizophrenic nature of the architecture found in downtown Evanston. 

  4. Evanston needs a true 5 Star restaurant

    Forget about all these come and go eating establishments.  We need the city of Evanston’s Alderpersons to get a proven and established truly great dinning experience in the downtown area.  I know of only one choice:  WHITE CASTLE !

    1. Classy Restaurants

      Well…Wolfgang Puck’s on Maple didn’t make it..and he’s about as well-known as one can get!   BUT, everyone has heard of and/or eaten at White Castle!  That, and a new Dairy Queen would bring throngs of customers!…at decent prices!

    2. Flawed Planning of Downtown Evanston

      Point well taken. I love to eat out, however for many reasons going to downtown Evanston to eat isn’t my first choice anymore. I do know I go up north just West of the expressway to buy my blizzard at Dairy Queen. It’s always busy when I go. I don’t eat White Castle, but what about thinking out of the box Evanaton Planners and try bringing these restaurant choices to our city.

      1. Keep hoping

        Considering that White Castle already has 69 locations in Illinois and is a privately-owned business that doesn’t franchise and has a very slow-paced expansion strategy, and that it has totally avoided opening anywhere on the North Shore as it pursues its working class customer base, my guess is the chances of getting one in Evanston are probably close to nil.

        Dairy Queen, controlled by Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, might be a better bet, if a would-be franchisee could find a suitable location here. But it might more likely resemble the storefront Dairy Queen Grill & Chill on South Wabash in downtown Chicago than the old-style DQ on Lake at Laramie in Wilmette that you go to now.

        — Bill

  5. Evanston development

    because if its size, streets and general turane, it seems to me that Evanston would be well served and prosper with the addition of a shuttle service. Small busses picking people up from all over Evanston and dropping them off downtown at perhaps every other block. The service could be a dinner service 7 days a week, a lunch / brunch / dinner service Saturday’s and Sunday’s, and used by the employees of downtown businesses as well.  This would eliminate the need to drive to lunch to dinner especially for Evanston Residents who worry about parking . This small bus / shuttle could be payed for by a sharred tax on businesses in especially the downtown areas. Portland Oregon comes to mind with its free trolley service, picking people up from various neighborhoods, bringing them downtown, returning them later in the day. This service would in addition make it easier for the lower income employees to get to work.

    1. So…you read this article

      So…you read this article where downtown business owners are saying how hard it is to stay in business…and your solution is to tax them more?

  6. How many do we need ?

    I’m not a fan at all about government interfering with private enterprise but the City government should try to provide some guidance into probability of restaurants making it in Evanston. Those who want to open a restaurant/tavern would be free to do so—but as with any business, no subsidies/gifts/tax breaks—they do so at their own risk and hopefully make money and stay in business.

    Surely City Hall has a record of what restaurants opened/closed and what type they were from say 1980. Until about 1980 Evanston was clearly a restaurant desert.  

    1. Evanston Development
      Currently few people drive to downtown Evanston to dine….it’s too congested and difficult to park (and pay for the privilege). This leaves 60201 walkers. It would seem most of the dining is upscale (Pete Miller’s etc ) and not affordable (white castle etc.). Jamming additional residences into the downtown area might help the businesses who require walking patrons. However, once that decision is reached, fewer still will drive to downtown. And that will be impossible to change once developments are up. Better hope the new residents support the downtown, because no one outside walking distance will bother.

  7. I can’t believe Nevin’s does not plan to re-open!

    I can’t believe Nevin’s does not plan to re-open! It’s an Evanston institution and has been around for longer than I have lived in Evanston — over 20 years! Why won’t he reopen? This contridicts the original article where they said Nevin’s would move out temporarily. Why are all our famous places closing — Davis St. Fish Market, Dave’s Italian Kitchen, etc.???

    1. Why?

      Well … sometimes an owner wants to retire … sometimes a concept is tired and isn’t drawing enough business to be very profitable any longer … why does any other business close?

      — Bill

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