Mediterranean/European-style café with festoon of lights and umbrella-shaded tables. Open for coffee in the morning, moving to a wine café in the evening. Foods will be light fare that is good for grab-an- go or picnic-appropriate. Hoping to become a hub for cyclists, kayakers, runners and yoga participants…a place to refresh, recharge and socialize with friends.
By Bob Seidenberg
How does that sound? Oh, and let’s not forget a one-of-a-kind location – the Arrington Lagoon building, in Dawes Park, which sits just off the lake.
Evanston Economic Development Committee members gave approval to staff at their April 27 meeting to craft an agreement with Sandeep Ghaeyy of the Vinic Wine Company to operate what will be called the Upsy-Daisy Café at the lagoon.
EDC members had signaled at their March 9 meeting an interest in sending letters to restaurant operators interested in operating a café program at the Arrington Lagoon building.
The request included an option to sell beer and wine, along with soft drinks, hot chocolate, and slush – a departure from the current policy banning alcohol sales at the lakefront.
Officials received only two responses, both from local businesses. The other response contained “significantly less detail” and thus was considered non-responsive, Paul Zalmezak, the City’s Economic Development Manager, said in a memo to the committee.
Ghaeyy, whose Vinic Wine Shop closed last month after 13 years of operation, proposed a five-year lease, with payments structured as a percentage of sales, also known as a “percentage rent” lease, said Zalmezak. Proposed terms include the city’s collecting 10% of food and beverage revenues up to $6,000 per month, with an additional 6%, he said.
Under the proposal, Upsy-Daisy Café would collaborate with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to allow the city’s Arts Camp, permitted weddings, and other already planned events around the lagoon building in 2022, Zalmezak said in his memo. In 2023, the café would operate the space exclusively, Zalmezak said.
The hours of operation at the café eventually would be 8 a.m., to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Zalmezak reported in his memo to the committee.
Initially, though, “instead of doing a daily café with food service and alcohol, Mr. Ghaeyy would like an opportunity to slowly roll this program out,” Zalmezak said.
Addressing the committee, Ghaeyy suggested that his team’s plan was initially to use the larger, east-facing room as the place of service for customers “to come in, browse, shop, pick up their orders” and then move to the patio space on the west side of the building.
Instead with the Parks Department events and other scheduled use this year, he said, his team would run the café as a pop-up on select weekends in late July, August and maybe September.
Smaller program better at start: Wynne
Council member Melissa Wynne, whose Third Ward includes a portion of the lakefront, told Ghaeyy she liked his idea of starting with a smaller program, given the sensitivity in the community around alcohol sales in that area.
“I’ve had emails strongly in favor and I’ve had emails that are expressing significant concerns about commercialization on the lakefront,” she said.
“I don’t think I would be representing the Third Ward appropriately,” she said, “if I didn’t say that I hear from a number of people who did express serious concerns about alcohol sales. And, as one person put it to me, ‘Europeans know how to drink outdoors, but Americans don’t.’ And so I do want to see how it works.”
Council member Clare Kelly, whose First Ward includes the lakefront area farther north, said she also has heard from both sides on the issue, “making it important we get it right.
“And I think we can get this right,” she told Ghaey.
The site “is a really stunning location.”
Kelly said there is really room to expand the kitchen storage area, “so I think this will give a really nice chance to figure out what we need to do to modify the space, moving forward.”
Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2ndWard, spoke of the strong business sense that Ghaey would bring to the café from his previous experience at Vinic and urged him to bring to staff and the committee any barriers he met during the startup.
“Just put them in writing so we can understand, because we’re going to have enough time to make this right, and I want to make it right,” said Braithwaite.
EDC members voted unanimously in support of staff drafting proposed lease terms and a list of proposed tenant improvements. The proposal will next go to the City Council for consideration at an upcoming meeting.
A little bit of magic
Ghaey ran Vinic Wine at 1509 Sherman Ave., which included a small cafe in the store. During his time there, he noted in his proposal, he developed programming such as the wine walk in the Main-Dempster Mile, an artist trunk show, progressive wine and cheese tastings, numerous store activations and several non-profit fundraisers.
He had worked in the wine business since college and decided to sell products he “believed in,” he told the RoundTable in an interview in February.
In closing the business, “It was almost the space more than COVID,” he said after the April 27 discussion.
“COVID wasn’t fun, but we got through it, and people were healthy and things were going to ramp up; but when we had to make a decision about the lease, things weren’t as clear as they are now.”
“It [the Sherman Avenue building] was a lovely little building; there was a French feel to it,” he said.
“Hopefully we can bring a little bit of that magic to the lakefront.”