Small Cheval to replace Depot Nuevo in historic Wilmette building
Sale of 150-year-old depot is pending board approval; Restaurant changeover expected to begin following summer
The depot will soon have a nuevo occupant.
The Village of Wilmette is planning to sell its historic former train station at 1139 Wilmette Ave., and the building’s current tenant, Depot Nuevo, will transition out in the coming months, according to Village documents and Depot Nuevo owner Rob Garrison.
Documents show that pending trustee approval the Village will sell the 150-year-old building for $1 million to a real-estate corporation representing Small Cheval, a limited-service restaurant that serves acclaimed burgers from six Chicago locations.
The sale agreement includes protections for the local landmark and will be introduced to the Village Board on Tuesday, March 14.
The purchaser cannot alter, relocate or demolish the depot without prior approval from the Village of Wilmette, and the Village has a right to refusal should the purchaser seek a buyer in the future, according to a memo from Village Manager Mike Braiman.
If the agreement is approved, Small Cheval would need a special-use permit from the Village to allow the operation of its limited-service restaurant, Braiman said.
Rob Garrison told The Record that he and wife Ann had no plans to close Depot Nuevo, but they were approached by representatives from Small Cheval and eventually accepted a deal.
“They approached us. It was not us seeking out anything,” he said. “My wife and I are 58 years old and had the complete intention to operate Depot Nuevo until we were at least 65 or 67. This was something they were pushing and pursuing and it just hit a point where we thought it makes more sense to do something else for the next 10 years.”
The Garrisons also owned downtown Wilmette restaurant The Noodle for 32 years until its closure in 2022. Rob Garrison said as part of the agreement to leave, he requested to stay through the summer and Depot Nuevo will move out of the space by August.
Village President Senta Plunkett credited the Garrisons for sparking the restaurant revival in downtown Wilmette.
“All of us in Wilmette owe a debt of gratitude to the Garrison family,” Plunkett said in a statement. “Their long-standing restaurants, the Noodle and Depot Nuevo, were the building blocks for Wilmette to become the top dining destination on the North Shore. We recognize Rob and Ann not solely as trailblazers for Wilmette’s restaurant scene, but as exceptional business owners who set the bar when it came to giving back to their community and taking care of their employees.
“We will miss them immensely and wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”
Small Cheval is a spinoff of Au Cheval, which has gained national attention — and hours-long waits — for its burgers since its 2012 opening in Chicago’s West Loop.
Three years later, Brendan Sodikoff and his restaurant company, Hogsalt Hospitality, opened Small Cheval as a scaled-down, quick-access version of the Au Cheval experience. Small Cheval serves only burgers, fries and shakes, as well as beer and cocktails. There are currently six locations but soon to be at least eight with the addition of Wrigleyville and Wilmette spots.
Hogsalt management did not return messages from The Record by press time.
A depot history
According to a post from the Wilmette Historical Museum, the depot was built for 1874 — following a fire at the original depot a few months earlier — to serve as the main train station in Wilmette.
By 1897, a more modern commuter station was built, and the depot was moved a block north, where it served freight lines until 1946. The building was then set for demolition, but a grassroots Save the Depot campaign was successful, and in 1974, a spirited crowd lined the streets as the depot was carried via truck bed to its current location at 1139 Wilmette Ave.
“The saving of Wilmette’s 1874 depot — the oldest surviving railway station on the North Shore — was the first local triumph of the movement toward historic preservation that was just beginning to take hold nationally in the 1960s and early 1970s,” the post from the historical museum reads.
Building owner the Village of Wilmette reportedly leased the building to a cable company, and then in 1992 to the Old Ouilmette Depot restaurant. The restaurant was significantly damaged by a fire in 2004, and during reconstruction, the Wilmette Village Board voted to accept new proposals for the space, according to a 2005 article from the Wilmette Life.
Depot Nuevo — a concept from Rob and Ann Garrison — earned the Village lease and moved into the 150-year-old historical landmark in 2008. The Garrisons renovated the space, including constructing an addition, at a cost of $500,000 that was shared by the Village, according to another Wilmette Life article.
Depot Nuevo has been a resident favorite during its 15-year run, serving Latin-American fare in a vibrant dining room and expanded patio. The restaurant was also known for its extensive tequila selection and familiar faces, Rob Garrison said.
“I think we worked real hard at high-quality, clean, well-prepared food … and we have a mostly long-term staff,” he said. “I like to think it’s a real friendly place to go. I think people like seeing the same employees. It’s an attraction when they go in.”
Garrison also had nothing but good things to say about the depot’s landlord.
“I want to compliment the Village completely,” he said. “We’ve had a great relationship with them over the past 15 years.”
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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