A sharp division of opinion emerged at an Evanston Design and Project Review Committee meeting Wednesday over the merits of a plan to turn a long-vacant storefront building into a restaurant.

Former 5th Ward alderman Delores Holmes, joined by several other long-term residents, opposed the proposal, while newly elected Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, supported it.

Bennett Johnson said the 27-foot-wide storefront had been built in the 1930s as a grocery store. “My mother worked there,” Johnson added.

The 1829 Simpson building, in an image from Google Maps.

About 2003, sometime after the last retail operation in the building closed, the zoning for the property was changed from commercial to residential , and it has remained vacant for the bulk of the time since.

A rendering of the proposed restaurant facade.

A plan to turn it into a cabinetry workshop was rejected by City Council in 2008. A concept to redevelop the building for affordable housing failed. And Holmes was unsuccessful in persuading her City Council colleagues to have the city buy the building and add it to the adjacent Twiggs Park.

Robin Rue Simmons.

Rue Simmons, based on a discussion of the proposal at a recent ward meeting, said, “There’s been agreement amongst the community that a full-service restaurant would be welcomed here. We’re looking forward to it.”

Donna Richardson.

But Donna Richardson, who lives in the 2000 block of Dodge, said this is the first year that she can sit on her front porch and use the park, after several years of heavy police activity in the neighborhood.

“The idea of bringing alcohol into the community is not very appealing to me,” Richardson said, “When you bring alcohol, you bring in problems and fights.”

Arkady Kats.

Would-be restaurant operator Arkady Kats, who’s also a building contractor, said he has no plans to sell liquor at the restaurant.

Kats, who with his wife Rita owned the Bread ‘n’ Bowl Company restaurant in Niles last decade, said he planned to offer soups and shish kabobs and salads at the restaurant, which would offer year-round seating for about 25 patrons, carry-out service, and a patio area in the rear for additional summertime seating.

Former Evanston City Clerk Rodney Greene said, “We really don’t need a restaurant. This piece of property could be used for affordable housing.”

“If it’s a restaurant,” Greene said, “sooner or later there’ll be liquor because they own’t be making enough off the food.”

Madelyn Ducre.

Madelyn Ducre said, “I don’t want to see that zoning changed for that kind of restaurant. Now, if it was red beans and rice and fried chicken, I might think about it.”

After discussing several details of the design for the project — including fencing to screen the patio area from an apartment building to the east and how garbage carts would need to be used to place trash at the curb — the committee voted to continue discussion of the proposal at its next meeting, at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the Civic Center.

Related stories

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Seriously?
    “I don’t want to see that zoning changed for THAT KIND of restaurant. Now, if it was red beans and rice and fried chicken, I might think about it.”

    Please tell me that was said in (obvious) jest. If not, it’s one of the most ignorant things I’ve heard in quite some time.

    1. Evanston’s hallpasses

      I am troubled by Ms. Ducre’s comment:.

      What does “that kind of restaurant” imply? What does she really mean? Her comments don’t appear consistent with equitable and inclusive Evanston values espoused by our community.

      I am troubled by Rodney Greene’s comment that “we don’t really need a restaurant” 

      How does he know? If an entrepreneur is willing to risk his/her capital and NOT ask for taxpayer money, and their business can exist within current laws and regulations, why not let them try? This business will create jobs, pay taxes and it actually may provide an unmet service to the neighborhood and community. If not, it will close its doors and the business owner will suffer the consequences.

      Seems like hallpasses are reserved for the privileged in Evanston.


      1. Thank you Alderman

        Thank you Alderman Rue-Simmons for your sensible vote on this matter.

        Hopefully our new equity director will get on this right away and submit an action plan (which the City council can discuss ad nauseum) so that this type bigoted,exclusive, culinary discrimination, will cease. All good Evanstonians  should install lawn signs that state “Here we believe that kabobs and soups have a right to be served in the 5th ward”

    2. Reality is stranger than
      Reality is stranger than fiction. At no point did I think it was said in jest. People are allowed to prefer certains foods whether they are stereotyped or not. The fried chicken, red beans and rice sounded more appetizing to me too. Big deal.

      1. Yes, but she’s talking about

        Yes, but she’s talking about opposing public policy based on her personal dietary preferences, which is positively absurd.

    3. The real issue

      Admit it, this is really about resistance to the possibility of gentrification in an important and historical area of Evanston. With that said, the site was originally mixed use because there was a single family home behind the store. Maybe a live-work type of situation might bring stability at this important intersection? The residents angst is completely understandable; especially from a historical perspective.

  2. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    • Cabinetry shop – Nope
    • Affordable housing – Nope
    • Park expansion – Nope
    • Kabob & salad restaurant – Nope
    • Restaurant with alcohol – Nope
    • Red beans & rice – Maybe

    Mr. Kats would be wise to ask Ms. Ducre for her red beans & rice recipe.

  3. Kabob Compromise

    Compromise: fried chicken kabobs with red beans and rice. Non-alcoholic beer. 

    ENcommenter for Mayor? Yes. 

  4. Kudos to Rue Simmons for Being reasonable

    The NIMBYs out in force for this one.

    Lets go one-by-one.  First Mr. Bennett Johnson (who lives in Southeast Evanston, nowhere near this site), its great that his mom worked there when it was a grocery store. But, dude, it’s not the 1930s (also the building was built in 1920–not the 30s).  I’m sure his mom was a wonderful lady, but is he suggesting that just because she worked there it should be unoccupied?

    Next up: Donna Richardson.  She is worried about the alcohol!  Again, the spectre of the early 20th century rears its head.  I know that Evanston is the historical home of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but we’ve modernized.  Just look at the successful booze businesses like Temperance, Few, or Sketchbook.

    This whole discussion about booze is moot anyway. Because THE OWNERS ARE NOT PROPOSING BOOZE SALES.  Please, Ms. Richardson, read their application. They are explicit about no alcohol.

    That’s a good segue to Rodney Greene. Another person fearful of the Devil’s Elixir!  He at least knows the Kats are not asking for booze rights in their application….for now!  Rodney “Who’s Who” Greene apparently is an expert in the hospitality industry [and I thought his expertise was in the spiritual arts given his Doctorate of Divinity from the mail-order Universal Ministries School of Theology].

    Greene claims that the Kats won’t earn enough off food and will need to bring in booze to pay the bills. Of course this ignores that there are MANY successful booze-free restaurants in Evanston.  Hell, two blocks away you have Claire’s Korner which doesn’t have a liquor license and they have been there for at least a decade.

    Maybe since Greene doesn’t have City Clerk work to keep him busy any more, he could draw on his valuable WHo’s Who contacts and raise some capital to build affordable housing at the site, since that seems to be his preference.

    And then, of course, there is Madelyn Ducre who only wants to see one type of food sold there. I would refer Ms. Ducre to the aforementioned, Claire’s Korner–while Claire doesn’t sell fried chicken, her jerk chicken melts in your mouth.  Try it, Ms. Ducre.  Widen your horizons.

    The Kats are immigrants from the former Soviet republic of Georgia who ran an exceptional restuarant out in Niles. It would be great to have them in town.

    As other commenters have said, they are not asking for city money–unlike, say, Chicken & Waffles (hmm… Ms. Ducre, it appears that your preferred cuisne doesn’t work in Evanston).

    The property was unwisely re-zoned to Residential in 2003 and it has been vacant ever since.  They will generate sales tax for the city, jobs.  What’s not to like?

    Glad to see the new alderwoman recognizing an opportunity for the residents when she sees it and lets hope she isn’t dissuaded by the typical Evanston NIMBY crowd anytime someone wants to do something new.

  5. Why not a restaurant?

    I am a Fifth Ward resident. I am fed up with this building not pulling in as much sales tax revenue and beinga boarded-up eyesore. If someone wants to come in and turn it into an alcohol-free restaurant, why not let them try?

    Serving alcohol is not a necessuity for success; Lyfe Kitchen did and they closed down anyway.

    Perhaps a business there would help keep down the undesirable activity that cause the neighbors to not be able to use their property in peace.  It might also be a place where the  Over the Rainbow folks and the congregation from the masjid at the corner of Simpson and Brown could get a bite to eat.

    I just wish that for onetime, we could all behave like the inclusive, accepting and tolerant folks that we purport to be.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *