Small Cheval’s arrival in Wilmette is closer to reality after two village governing bodies granted the acclaimed restaurant the necessary support it needs to move forward.
The restaurant’s request for a needed special-use permit made its way in front of Wilmette’s Village Board during its Tuesday, Aug. 8 meeting. Trustees approved the request as part of their consent agenda, and they did not discuss the proposal during the meeting.
Small Cheval needed a special-use permit from the Village to allow the operation of its limited-service restaurant in Wilmette, which required ownership to bring further detailed plans forward to both the zoning and village boards.
As first reported by The Record, Wilmette announced in mid-March its plan to sell the 150-year-old historic structure for $1 million to a real-estate corporation representing Small Cheval, which serves heralded burgers from six Chicago locations.
The historic former train depot was moved to 1139 Wilmette Ave. in 1974. It was leased by a cable company and then, starting in 1992, by the Old Ouilmette Depot restaurant. The Village of Wilmette requested new proposals for the space in 2004, and Depot Nuevo opened in 2008.
Small Cheval, Depot Nuevo and the Village struck a deal earlier this year, and Depot Nuevo’s is soon closing to make way for the popular burger joint.
Jonathon Fixler, a representative from the ownership group behind Small Cheval, told zoning commissioners on July 19 that the restaurant plans to only make adjustments to the interior of the building and “limited to no changes” on the exterior.
“We understand the historic nature of the property,” he said. “It’s part of what drew us to the site. We plan to work with the historical society so that any changes outside of the property can be met with full approval. … The property is in really good shape for the way that we would like to use it.”
Wilmette will be Small Cheval’s second suburban location, as the franchise’s Rosemont location is slated to open before the Wilmette spot, Fixler said. Hours in Wilmette reportedly will be the same as Depot Nuevo: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The existing 89 parking spaces that are used by Depot Nuevo will remain, Fixler said, adding that on average, he estimates 60 percent of dining will be on-site, depending on the time of day.
Despite unanimous support for Small Cheval’s plans from both the zoning and village boards, some officials aren’t sold that the ends will justify the means.
During a July 19 meeting of Wilmette’s Zoning Board of Appeals, three commissioners questioned why the historic former train station at 1139 Wilmette Ave. was not publicly listed for sale before it was sold.
“I think the sale of the property is extraordinarily curious and the way the village has handled it,” commissioner Ryrie Pellaton said at the July 19 meeting. “It is something that I hope the trustees will flesh out somewhat when they discuss this because the other thing that has been brought up repeatedly is that many other restaurateurs would have paid significantly more for it.”
Commissioners Bob Surman and Didier Glattard shared Pellaton’s sentiments. Surman said he was disheartened that a “public building was not offered publicly,” while Glattard thought that the village could have received more money for the property had it gone public.
Village Manager Mike Braiman said the discussion was based on miscommunication and the Village was not out to sell its historic building. Instead, Depot Nuevo ownership approached the Village to discuss a possible sale of the restaurant and the building.
Despite the questioning of the sale, members of the zoning board shared excitement for the restaurant coming to Wilmette.
“I’m thrilled that as one restaurant vacates the property, another one is poised to step in and having been to the Small Cheval downtown, my grandchildren will be thrilled to have me take them there,” commissioner Maria Urban said.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.