Evanston bakery must raise dough or close
Denice Revolinski of Des Plaines holds her pizza while talking about her trip to Rose's Bakery in Evanston, Ill. on Thursday, December 20, 2012. | Jon Durr~ For Sun-Times Media
Name of business: Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery & Café, located at 2901 Central St. in northwest Evanston.
Special niche: The restaurant has been offering gluten free food since 2007 and also has a line of products for others with food sensitivities. Named by Chicago Magazine as one of the top 20 restaurants in the Chicago area when it opened.
Deadline: Rose O’Connor, the owner, has announced the bakery and café will close Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., if efforts to secure more time from the bank are not successful. Some residents have launched a fundraising campaign. Go to www.indiegogo.com/SaveTheRoseo
Updated: January 28, 2013 2:49PM
Rose O’Carroll, the owner of Rose’s Wheat-Free Bakery & Café, couldn’t help notice the customers crowding into her restaurant around lunchtime on Dec. 20.
Some were standing two or three deep at the checkout counter, waiting to pay for the non-gluten breads and desserts they were loading up for the holidays.
The scene looked like the run of customers trying to save their accounts at the mythical Building and Loan in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
In this case, though a bank is foreclosing, they are not the villain, O’Carroll stressed.
“Everything they have done is legal,’’ she said of the bank, a Chicago-based financial trust company.“They haven’t violated any law. It’s the way most mortgages are set up.”
O’Carroll said the first hint she had that the popular restaurant’s financial problems may be overwhelming came in early December when some employees reported their checks were not clearing.
“Without talking to me, they (the bank) froze my assets and basically that put me in foreclosure,” O’Carroll said. “I had no idea.”
O’Carroll said she received her original loan for $656,000 from another bank.
That bank went out of business, and the loan assumed by the bank she is now working with.
That bank has shown little interest in working with her as she slipped behind in her mortgage, she said. The bank’s action started the clock running on how long the bakery and café, at 2901 Central, will stay open.
City economic development officials – who have pushed assistance for businesses far less established than Rose’s – placed news of the restaurant’s plight and a movement to raise funds on the city website.
O’Carroll, meanwhile, has set 3 p.m. Dec. 24 as the restaurant’s last day, barring changes in the restaurant’s financial situation.
She said some investors are in the wings, urging her to stay open until the end of the year.
She was scheduled to meet with a loan officer at the Chicago-based bank she has been dealing with Friday.
In a Web posting, she said a rise in costs and poor economy have contributed to the restaurant’s plight.
When she and her husband purchased their building in 2007, the commercial real estate market was flourishing.
Since then it has moved downward, she said, and she has not been able to depend on rents that she had from upstairs offices.
Plus, she was in the process of trying to purchase equipment ”that would have made us more efficient with hope of profitability.”
“Gluten free ingredients are expensive, at our scale,” she explained. “It is labor intensive, which also makes it expensive, and the poor economy and real estate market have not helped.” Some of the customers in the bakery on Thursday were hoping for some kind of reversal.
Winnetka resident Billie Cary paid a visit so she could buy some gluten-free pizza crusts and desserts for her son, coming home for the holidays.
“His favorite are Pecan Bars, and they’re really good,’’ she said.
Denice Revolinski, a Pilates instructor, made the trip from Des Plaines.
She cradled a “gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, tomato-free,” pizza, whose crust was made of walnuts.
Revolinksi, like a lot of the café’s devoted customers, deals with a wide range of food allergie s.“This is the only place I can order food I can eat,” she said. “So it’s a real treat.”
In her online message and interview, O’Carroll talked about the cafe’s role in helping people with food sensitivities.
“We have basically bankrupted ourselves trying to make this work,” she said.
The satisfaction, she said, is in having fed people who could not have gone anywhere else. We routinely had people who burst into tears of joy after months or years of frustration or of being thought of as the crazy odd one because of their food sensitivities. We helped the newly-diagnosed know that life and food would continue to be good, if not better, gluten free.”