Lucky Platter reopens with new owners

At the Lucky Platter restaurant, 514 Main St., the ecclectic art collection has long been a conversation starter. The restaurant underwent interior renovations last week, temporarily storing its art inventory before reopening July 10.

Since 1991, The Lucky Platter helped to define the 500 block of Main Street. With its folk art (or funk art or bad art or whatever art one calls it), the restaurant’s walls and ceiling pop with three-dimensional and colorful works.

Famous folks were fans, including actors and the late Evanston artist Ed Paschke.

With new ownership since April, loyal customers revisited what The Lucky Platter meant to them.

“It’s a great restaurant and it has a huge amount of character,” said Tony Vick, an eight-year Evanston resident who walked by The Lucky Platter July 8. “I hope the renovation continues to show off all of the wonderful and unique art.”

The co-owners are Derek Gaspar, of Wilmette, and Eric Young, of Evanston. The former owner, Eric Singer, who lives nearby, sought new owners who would appreciate The Lucky Platter’s mission. Singer spent months assisting the transition, Gaspar said.

“It’s wonderful, I come by here fairly frequently,” said Dorothe Rigby, an 18-year Evanston resident who mentioned the tandoori grilled salmon. “I hope they don’t change it too much. It just wasn’t your run-of-mill restaurant.”

Said Hollie Wagner of Evanston: “I always feel at home here. It’s almost like being in somebody’s living room.”

Gaspar and his wife Mary, a painter, who is “very excited about this whole process,” have two daughters, Maeve, 6, an Avoca West School first-grader, and Nina, almost 4. Derek Gaspar has a master’s degree in acting from DePaul.

“We’re … just freshening it up,” said Gaspar, who may add gluten-free and vegan options at diners’ request.

Many order the crab cake or fried green tomato Benedict and Caribbean pumpkin soup.

“Yes, we want to really keep the spirit of the Platter alive,” said Eric Young, a Kendall culinary school graduate. “It’s an Evanston institution and has a long-time following and there’s no reason to change that.”

Young and his wife Shaina Young, a yoga instructor and Evanston Athletic Club fitness professional, have three children, Ronan, 7, who attends Lincoln Elementary School, Ivy, 4, and Fiona, 2.

The Lucky Platter artwork has returned although the ceiling, which featured foil relief texture, will be modified. While there is no artwork by Ed Paschke in the restaurant’s collection, Gaspar enjoyed learning about the artist’s legacy.

“Upon cleaning out the office, I found the Ed Paschke book,” said Gaspar, holding up a glossy paperback about the artist, who died in 2004, leaving a global mark on animated modernism with neon-inspired imagery. “I love the [Paschke] artwork, and I was curious as to whether there was a connection with The Lucky Platter, although the artwork in The Lucky Platter is very much an outsider folk art.”

Gaspar said Paschke is “a little more sophisticated with his talent, with how he is perceived and just his history.”

Paschke’s work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

“His artwork has such a humor to it (and) could really belong in The Lucky Platter, but I don’t know that the actual level of talent quite fits the bill,” Gaspar said.

Both owners are grateful for the diverse customer base.

“You can look back to all of the creative talent that’s come out of Evanston,” Young said. “[Oscar-nominated actor] Michael Shannon worked here as a waiter, the Cusack family [actors Joan and John] is a local family, with the university, the artists … it’s kind of not surprising,” he said

“It’s pretty amazing,” added Gaspar. “But I think Evanston is full of these little gems.”

Customers were treated to the popular gazpacho and strawberry rhubarb pie on the re-opening menu.

“That’s sort of a ‘relax pill’ for everyone who’s worried we’re going to change everything,” said Gaspar with a laugh.

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