Evanston City Council members gave the green light Monday to the city’s second cannabis dispensary – as well as a bakery-restaurant – within the five-story, mixed-use Evanston Gateway project close to opening at 100 Chicago Ave.

Ameya Pawar, the project applicant, received special use approval for two independent businesses that would occupy ground-floor space in the building – a Type 2 restaurant, West Town Bakery, and the dispensary, to be named OKAY Cannabis, said city Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz in a memo.

Although the businesses will interact with each other and likely share a customer base, Klotz noted in her memo that bakery items will not be infused with cannabis. She capitalized “not” and added that no cannabis items will be available for purchase within the bakery.

The mixed-use Evanston Gateway building at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Howard Street is set to house a bakery and cannabis dispensary on the first floor. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Adding cannabis to food or beverages would require a new special use for a cannabis infuser and require modification to the city’s zoning ordinance to allow on-site cannabis consumption, she wrote.

Discussing the project at the council’s Planning & Development Committee meeting, Pawar noted, “What’s unique about this is that in most dispensaries that you see around the state, they are very transactional experiences. You walk in, [get] in line, purchase the product, and what we’re hoping to do with OKAY Cannabis is sort of normalize the experience, [emphasizing] there’s nothing wrong with cannabis. You can come in and purchase cannabis, if you like.”

But he said it’s also designed for someone to come in, buy a coffee and a pastry, sit down and have a meal.

While the two concepts are under one roof, they are separate operations, he said. He said the project is the second such site in Illinois and it’s unique in having 91% Black and Brown ownership.

Council Member Devon Reid, in whose Eighth Ward the proposed site is located, said he’s excited about the project.

“I think this, hopefully, will become the most popular dispensary in Evanston, and we’ll have it on the south end,” he said. “What I think is great about the experience here is it’s a real user-friendly experience when compared with other dispensaries, particularly in Illinois.”

The ordinance allowing a special use for the dispensary and a special use for the restaurant-bakery passed in a 6-0 council vote.

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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