A combination bakery/marijuana dispensary proposal for 100 Chicago Ave. is one step closer to approval after the Land Use Commission voted 5-0 on April 12 to approve the project.

The Evanston Gateway project is seen in a rendering. The mixed-use residental building will have 4,960 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.  Credit: LG Group

West Town Bakery and OKAY Cannabis would both be located within the Evanston Gateway building at the northwest corner of Howard Street and Chicago Avenue, a five-story, 28-unit mixed-use residential building with 4,960 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. The two businesses, both owned by Chicago-based CESAM, each require a special-use permit to operate in the B3 business district.

There are five West Town Bakery stores in the region. One in Wheeling is operating in tandem with an OKAY Cannabis. Another West Town-OKAY combination is planned to open Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. The principals are currently hoping for a July opening in Evanston.  

Ameya Pawar, a former Chicago alderman who is a principal officer with CESAM, said the business is intended to normalize the process of purchasing cannabis. He noted that purchasing from a dispensary was usually a purely “transactional” experience. Having the bakery nearby, Pawar added, could make that process more pleasant for customers.

“We think it will be a unique experience for all,” said Pawar, who is a minority holder in OKAY Cannabis. Chicago Public Schools interim Chief Operating Officer Charles Mayfield is OKAY’s majority owner.  

The new project’s attorney, Ashley Brandt of Chicago-based Tucker Ellis, emphasized that no cannabis would be used as an ingredient in food items, which would mainly be cooked offsite in another West Town Bakery location. 

Longtime former City Council Member Ann Rainey, who represented the 8th Ward where the business would be located, praised the project during public comments. She called the building “a miracle,” and said that the bakery-dispensary combination was the “second-best use” for the location (with the first, she said, being a food store). 

Rainey, however, questioned the operating hours for the bakery, which, like the dispensary, are slated to be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is standard for Evanston dispensaries. She noted that it would be advantageous for the bakery to be open early for people on their way to work via the Howard Street L station to pick up coffee and/or pastries. Pawar later said that most West Town Bakery locations were indeed open at 7 a.m., and various comments in the meeting suggested that the business may revisit the operating hours issue for the bakery.

Commissioners were largely complimentary of the project, with Commission Chair Matt Rodgers suggesting that it would help revitalize a tired streetscape.

Dispensaries, he noted, often are conscientious about blending in with their neighborhoods. He recalled that when Evanston’s other dispensary, located on Maple Street, requested permission from the city for an expansion, some residents urged the city not to let a dispensary open downtown. The dispensary was so inconspicuous that they didn’t know it had been open all along.  

OKAY Cannabis is classified by the state of Illinois as a social equity dispensary, with a license that has been granted to an individual or individuals whose community has been disproportionately affected by arrests and prosecutions for marijuana-related offenses.

Pawar said in the April 12 meeting that OKAY is 93%-owned by Black and Brown people.

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