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Nostalgic, fun, inviting are the feelings one will experience whether biking, walking or jogging past Krave’s Koncessions at the lakefront in Dawes Park (at Church Street). This rest stop offers what this writer believes are the best hot dogs ever, as well as a variety of novelty ice cream delights.
Kiddie-sicles and a variety of soft drinks, coffee, and fresh, hot delicious popcorn served from a retro-style popcorn cart are also available. The colorful umbrellas shading the tables provide a quiet and cool respite. One can enjoy the ambience of this oasis by the lake, alone or with friends, children and animals. There is even a water bowl and treats for four-footed pets.
The building is cheerfully decorated with hula hoops on the outside and a bright cleanliness inside, where the employees take orders from customers. The outdoor table service is staffed by interesting and helpful young people.
Owner Rachelle Ross said her goal was to provide a place with quality concession food and with an inviting and relaxing atmosphere. The quality of the summer employees, she said, was critical in this respect.
This was the first summer that her company, Krave Koncessions LLC, had the entire lakefront concessions contract. Lighthouse Beach, Dawes Park, Greenwood Beach and Lee Street Beach were all served by Krave’s unique hot dog and ice cream “Karts.”
When asked about how she decided on this business, Ms. Ross said it was in part because of her background in social services. Her interest in the service aspect of food combined with a sweet, childhood idea of having a place kids could come and hang out were all part of her vision. There was the practical side as well, Ms. Ross said, of earning additional money as a young single parent.
Ms. Ross, an Evanston resident, moved from the West coast to the Midwest with 18 years experience in social services. Continuing in that field, and having always enjoyed interaction with people, she began in 2002 with a licensed mobile vending ice-cream cart, traveling through the tree-lined streets of Evanston.
She said she discovered that people loved the nostalgia evoked when a KoolKart rolled up – whether a Tricycle Ice Cream Kart or a charming, old-fashioned Hackney push cart – a timeless feeling that one generation wants to share with the next.
This was all part of a new learning curve for Ms. Ross who, in 2005, started her business, Krave LLC, built a website and began Krave Koncessions.
Her creative idea was originally about children’s parties, but Ms. Ross was pleasantly surprised when she received her first calls for events from businesses such as Goose Island, USA Today, Hallmark, Mohawk Industries and the MacArthur Foundation. This led Ms. Ross in an entirely different direction than she had envisioned, working with companies promoting their business, products and services on Krave’s Karts’ large menu and sign boards at company events. The KoolKarts, with their bright umbrellas and hanging chips and Cracker Jacks were warmly reminiscent of a time gone by.
All the while, Ms. Ross said, she kept inquiring year after year about Evanston’s lakefront concessions. When the City contracts were up for bids last year, Ms. Ross applied.
Responding to a reporter’s question about how she hired young people for the summer, the energetic, outgoing and genuinely friendly Ms. Ross said she attended the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program. This is a program where teens between the ages of 14 through 18 have the opportunity to plan their summer employment experiences and meet and interview with employers who have jobs available for them. Once the initial contact was made, Ms. Ross asked each prospective employee to complete online a series of tasks. Those who responded to her assignment online were considered serious applicants.
Ms. Ross also developed her own orientation program that included Krave’s Etiquette List, a training manual she created in addition to the employees’ handbook. This orientation program took place before the opening weekend. Parents were invited and encouraged to attend so they would understand the responsibilities of their child’s summer job. One of those teens was Ms. Ross’s son, a student at Evanston Township High School.
The teens were assigned ice cream and hot dog carts at the different lakefront locations, rotating throughout the summer. The carts were placed near the lifeguards checking tokens, except at Lighthouse Beach where the carts were located in the parking lot.
The behind-the-scenes organization has been critical to the business’s success.
Generally after 7 p.m. this past summer, the carts were noticeably absent from their usual location. Ms. Ross’s husband, John, picked up the carts each evening in the 22-foot truck that also served as the docking station. He cleaned and polished them, Ms. Ross said, restocking each cart and dropping off each of them soon after dawn the next morning before leaving for his full-time job. Krave Koncessions is, after all, a family affair.
Even with the summer schedule Krave LLC continued to provide service for parties, and promotional events of clients such as the Evanston Fire Department, schools – where Ms. Ross often has donated her services – hospitals in the Chicagoland area, and picnics. These community events Krave LLC does its best to make affordable, fun and festive.
As for Evanston, Krave Koncessions will remain opened through Oct. 31, weather permitting, to give Evanston residents time to discover and enjoy their presence on the lakefront a bit longer.
For more information go to http://www.kravellc.com or or contact Ms. Ross at 847-668-4453.