Wilmette, News

Trustees approve financial incentive for restaurant, but liquor license sparks debate

While no binding vote was at stake, Wilmette Trustee Dan Sullivan made his position clear during a regular Village Board session Tuesday, Jan. 24.

After removing the measure from the consent agenda, Sullivan told his colleagues that he would not support a liquor license for incoming restaurant EvaDean’s Bakery and Cafe, saying the restaurant’s plans to use neighboring Veteran’s Park and serve alcohol there were poorly communicated to the board.

“I welcome (EvaDean’s). We’ve done a lot of accommodations to entice them, but I am just not feeling good about the process and how this is slowly dripping,” Sullivan said. “I am not supportive of this and will be here at the next meeting for sure to not support the liquor license.”

Sullivan made his statements as the board was introduced to EvaDean’s request to serve liquor indoors at 1115 Central Ave., the former and longtime home of Lad & Lassie children’s clothing store.

Sullivan said he was not necessarily against the a liquor license or the restaurant’s use of Veteran’s Park; however, he opposes the service of alcohol in Veteran’s Park and is worried that any related approvals would encourage it.

“That’s exactly why I pulled it (from the consent agenda); it’s very murky what’s going on here,” he said. “Alcohol should not be served in Veteran’s Park.”

But not all board members were surprised by EvaDean’s plans.

Village President Senta Plunkett said trustees have previously discussed the restaurant and were made aware of its concept.

“We’ve discussed this before,” she said. “I just assumed a restaurant use would be similar to others in our community. We know it included Veteran’s Park. I don’t think anyone is surprised we are talking about seating in Veteran’s Park.”

During the discussion, Village Manager Mike Braiman reviewed the background of the Village’s discussions with and about EvaDean’s, which reportedly began in September 2021.

In a followup call with The Record, he referred to the conversation on Tuesday as “miscommunication.”

EvaDean’s is transforming the longtime home of Lad & Lassie that it purchased in March 2022.

“To utilize Veteran’s Park for outdoor dining is different than a restaurant using the public right of way,” he said. “It’s unique. We haven’t done that before. We’re working through the details and mechanics of that. The first step is figuring out the concept and making sure we are comfortable with that.”

Also on the consent agenda Tuesday was an economic incentive agreement between the Village and the restaurant, which purchased the property in March 2022 with knowledge of potential incentives and potential use of Veteran’s Park.

Lad & Lassie closed in early 2020, leaving a 6,000-square-foot vacant building in the heart of downtown Wilmette. Braiman in a memo to the board said finding a tenant “was a challenge” because of the size, shape and age of the building.

In marketing materials for the space, the Village included an image of restaurant diners seated in Veteran’s Park. Braiman said the image and restaurant concept were shown to the Village Board “probably a couple years ago.”

An investor reportedly purchased the building in May 2021, and in September 2021, the Downer family — which also owns Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston — and the Village began discussions on a new restaurant. According to the memo, the Downers requested an economic incentive “to help defray the cost of a required fire sprinkler system and water service.”

The EvaDean’s team, led by Jordana Downer and husband Garrett VanBergen, purchased the building in 2022 and announced they would be utilizing a portion of Veteran’s Park and seeking a liquor license, according to reporting from The Record.

Braiman said a financial incentive and limited use of the public park received “informal support” from the board prior to the Downers’ purchase of the property.

The incentive package, as laid out in village documents and approved on Tuesday, is based on sales-tax revenue and has a cap of $150,000. The Village of Wilmette will remit to EvaDean’s as much as $30,000 in sales-tax dollars per year for five years. The incentive only kicks in each year after the Village collects at least $30,000 in sales-tax dollars produced by EvaDean’s.

While EvaDean’s is the first Wilmette restaurant to receive an incentive package, Braiman said the Village made a similar arrangement when Residence Inn came to town in 2014.

“What makes this unique is they are the first restaurant to convert a nonrestaurant space into a restaurant space,” Braiman said. “And that mandates the fire sprinkler system and additional costs.”

Over the past year, the EvaDean’s team has rehabbed the building, and the restaurant’s exterior designs received approval from the Appearance Review Commission in September 2022.

The Village’s Judiciary Committee on Jan. 9 got a first look at EvaDean’s liquor license application for indoor beer, wine and liquor sales. Included with the documents was a concept letter from Downer and VanBergen that details the owners’ hopes for the restaurant, including breakfast, lunch and brunch service; a daily bakery; 42 seats in the main dining room, 36 seats within Veteran’s Park, and “beer, wine, liquor and malt liquor beverages at the bar, tables and patio.”

Trustee Sullivan referenced the concept letter during Tuesday’s Village Board meeting, saying he was surprised to read of EvaDean’s plans for alcohol sales in Veteran’s Park.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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