A rendering shows the proposed Upsa-Daisy Cafe at the Arrington Lagoon building. Credit: City of Evanston

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How does this sound:

Mediterranean/European-styled café with string festoon lights and umbrella covered tables. Open for coffee in the morning and move to a wine café in the evening. Foods will be light fare that is good for grab and 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.

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.

At their April 27 meeting Evanston Economic Development Committee members approved moving forward to craft an agreement with Sandeep Ghaey of the Vinic Wine Co. to operate what is to be named the Upsa-Daisy Café at the lagoon.

Committee members had signaled at their March 9 meeting an interest in sending out letters to restaurant operators interested in operating a cafe program at the Arrington Lagoon building. The request for proposals included an option to sell beer and wine along with soft drinks, hot chocolate and slushy drinks, in a departure from policy banning alcohol sales at the lakefront.

Paul Zalmezak, the City’s Economic Development Manager, said in a memo to the committee that officials received only two proposals, and the other submission, which came from a local business, had “significantly less detail” that Ghaey’s and thus was considered unresponsive.

Ghaey, whose Vinic Wine shop closed last month after 13 years, 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 collecting 10% of food and beverage sales up to $6,000 per month, then 6% of sales up to $9,000.

Under the proposal, Upsy-Daisy Café would collaborate with the Parks Department to allow the city’s Arts Camp and permitted weddings and other already planned events to take place around the lagoon building in 2022, Zalmezak said in his memo.

In 2023, the cafe would operate the space exclusively, Zalmezak said.

The Arrington Lagoon building as it currently appears. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

The hours of operation at the cafe 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 cafe with food service and alcohol every day, Mr. Ghaey would like an opportunity to slowly roll this program out,” Zalmezak said.

Addressing the committee, Ghaey suggested that his team’s plan was initially to use the east-facing room, which is the larger of the two rooms in the 1,300-square-foot building, to be 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 plans and other scheduled use this year, he said his team is aiming to run the cafe as a pop-up on select weekends in late July, August and maybe September.

Smaller program better at start, says Wynne

Council member Melissa Wynne, whose Third Ward includes a portion of the lakefront, told Ghaey 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 further 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,” she said, adding that there’s 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, 2nd Ward, spoke of the strong business sense that Ghaey would bring to the cafe from his previous experience at Vinic, urging him to bring any barriers during the startup to staff and the committee.

“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,” he said.

Committee 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 Chicago Ave., which included a small in-store cafe, for 13 years until it closed last month. During his time there he worked to develop programming such as the wine walk in the Main-Dempster Mile, he noted in his proposal, as well as an artist trunk show, progressive wine and cheese tastings and numerous store events and nonprofit fundraisers.

In a February RoundTable interview he said he had worked in the wine business since college and decided to sell products he “believed in.”

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 Chicago Avenue building] was a lovely little building, there was like a French feel to it,” he said.

“Hopefully we can bring a little bit of that magic to the lakefront.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. It’s about time we have a cafe like they have all over Europe. I think Americans are mature enough to handle it. Thank you to the council for supporting this.

  2. I have heard from a reliable source that this story is inaccurate. Sandeep Ghaey wants to try this as a pop-up location a couple times this summer, before committing to it as a full-time business venture. The city really wants him to commit, but he is much more cautious than the article indicates.

    1. Thank you Robb . I would clarify that the article contains facts. However, It is HIGHLY misleading. The important fact , that was buried in this article, is that Sandeep has only committed to the possibility of 3 pop up trials in late July, August and September. And all of this is still under review with caution from all City Council members.

  3. I love this idea! It’s such a charming space that’s not being used. The idea of a coffee shop /wine bar is perfect for the area. We loved Vinic & think Sandeep would do a wonderful job.

    1. The site is actually heavily used in summer months as a coveted rental space through Parks and Rec for community members to hold showers, outdoor wedding receptions and for 9 weeks it offers families the option of a full day Aquatics camp experience which will now go away in 2023 because there are no other buildings on the lakefront to host a city day camp.

  4. I’m so happy to hear that Sandeep is coming back! We were devastated when Vinic closed. My whole family loved visiting there. It was as much a place to socialize as it was a place to buy wine. The wine tastings were always educational and responsible fun. I hope that they will be able to create the same atmosphere. It would be a boon for Evanston.

  5. “Europeans know how to drink outdoors but Americans don’t”……. WOW! what a comment. Not sure if the people saying these things are overly haughty natives, pompous European transplants, or holdover teetotalers but they are misguided. Evanstonians can handle their imbibements outdoors just fine thank you.

    Good job city council for enabling new and interesting establishments. Very pleased to see Vinic back in action.

  6. This is very encouraging. Evanston’s lakefront is such a fantastic, yet sadly underutilized feature of our city. Pulling residents to the lake will bring them through downtown, increasing visitors for retail. If we can address the obstacle Ridge presents to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, there’s no reason Evanston can’t emulate a more European model of urbanism by drawing shoppers and diners — and fewer cars — to our charming green belt by the water.

  7. More favors to friends from Evanston government officials. Never mind this guy couldn’t make a wine shop work in of all places a college town. Let’s give him another chance because he’s our buddy.

    1. You may have missed the part where it states only 2 proposals were provided. Also this isnt really a “gift” from the citt when they sign up a $6,000 lease.