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The Peckish Pig, which opened its doors on Howard Street in March of 2014, is nearing its fifth anniversary. Owner and executive chef Debbie Evans said when she was considering opening at this location people asked, “Why are you going to do that?”
“When my former partner, Patrick Breslin, and I decided to open the Celtic Knot there was nothing there,” said Ms. Evans. “I’ve always been into taking on a bit of challenge. After opening Celtic Knot I opened Taste, Food and Wine on Jarvis [in Chicago] and there was not much around. I had that for seven years. It was a challenge but worthwhile.”
Ms. Evans said that when she decided to open the Peckish Pig she knew it had to be a family affair – and involved husband at the time, Jamie Evans, and her kids. Her father built the bar, and her son took plaster off walls to expose brick. “There were four joined store fronts and we had to knock down two foot thick walls to get our open space. We all pitched in and worked really hard. We didn’t have much money, and whatever I was going to do, it had to work,” said Ms. Evans.
The Evans’ were approached by the City of Evanston and received TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money, which Ms. Evans said is not a gift, but rather an interest-free loan. “They gave us a $200K TIF loan. We had to give it back if we wanted to buy back the building. We had a choice. Would we buy the building and pay back the TIF loan or just be a tenant?” They ended up buying the building and re paying the loan last year.
Talking more about the family business aspect of the Peckish Pig Ms. Evans said, “One very nice thing that we found, having a family business, people that come to work for you, they tend to stay longer. Seventy percent of our original staff has been here from the beginning.”
Though there have been challenges, Ms. Evans said that they have never once had a break-in, a theft, or any sort of trouble or fight on the restaurant’s premises. And, while she has stuck to her original thinking on coming to Howard Street – that gangs and violence would not stop them – there have been some related incidents. “Three or four months ago a shooting and then a stabbing in Rogers Park sort of made a lull in this area,” said Ms. Evans. “Having to keep the morale of the staff up during that time – and say that we can’t give up – was a challenge. I don’t ask my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Ms. Evans serves as the restaurant’s executive chef but leaves the kitchen and is out on the floor every Friday and Saturday night. Making sure that things run smoothly and that she gets feedback from customers is part of her do-it-yourself attitude.
“Our concept is quality food, fun at the table, work with local farms and providers,” said Ms. Evans. “We buy most of our produce locally in the summer, though it is limited at this time of year.” Ms. Evans said that all the chicken and other meat they use is organic, and much of it comes from Homestead Meats on Dempster Street. They also work with Hewn Bread, which uses the same grains used for the brewery to make a special spent-grain bread just for the Peckish Pig. She said she would like for everything to be organic but that cannot do that because of the costs that they would have to pass along to customers.”
The restaurant, which Ms. Evans said has become a midway-point meeting destination from those coming from downtown Chicago, doubled its seating when it opened its patio in the restaurant’s second year of business. “Having the patio open is like having two restaurants,” said Ms. Evans. “We’re not student-related, so we get big crowds in the summer. We also do a lot of events, including a lot of weddings.”
Asked about best-sellers, Ms. Evans cited her fish and chips, which is made with fresh cod and boasts more fish than batter. She said that the bacon-wrapped dates are also a top-seller. Noting that she makes all the pastries, she said that their sticky toffee pudding is the best-selling sweet. “A woman named Gail [whose last name she couldn’t recall] made it at Tommy Nevin’s and taught me when she got sick and could no longer make it. So, I kept making it at Nevin’s and then at Celtic Knot, but didn’t see Gail for many years,” said Ms. Evans. “I walked out onto our patio here one evening and there she was. The stories make you feel connected, you know.”