Lulu’s, Taco Diablo move closer to return

Restaurant owner Dan Kelch is moving closer to bringing his popular Lulu’s, Taco Diablo’s and another restaurant to the former Tom Thumb Hobby & Crafts site, at 1026 Davis St.

At the July 14 Planning & Development Committee meeting, Kelch won preliminary backing from aldermen for relief on some parking and setback requirements.

He is proposing to build a new, two-story commercial building with approximately 19,980 square feet of commercial space on the site of Tom Thumb.

The longtime hobby business, meanwhile, is relocating to smaller space in Niles.

The first floor is to feature two full-service restaurants, Lulu’s Asian Fusion and Taco Diablo on the east half of the building, with general retail space on the west half.

The second floor will feature additional seating and event space for functions related to the first-floor restaurants, and an outdoor terrace fronting Davis Street, said officials.

Kelch’s Lulu’s Restaurant, with its fresh Asian dishes, was regarded one of the city’s most popular restaurants for years, operating just off the corner of Sherman and Davis Street; and Taco Diablo, across the street from Tom Thumb, at 1033 Davis St., was developing a growing reputation before it was one three businesses destroyed in a fire Dec. 29.

Kelch closed Lulu’s earlier this year, making room for Boatwood Evanston, now operating out of the 806 Davis St. space.

In a brief presentation at the July 14 meeting, architect John Myefski, along with Kelch, said what is being proposed is fundamentally a one-story building which will pretty much replace the Tom Thumb footprint.

Inside the building, the space will almost be divided in half, with the two restaurants, Lulu’s and Taco Diablo on one side, holding seating of approximately 60, and retail space on the other.

A stairway and then elevator will lead up to second floor space across the front of the building, which will hold a restaurant, bar and terrace space about 25 feet in depth.

The applicants explored different ways to provide parking in the area, beyond the diagonal spaces on the street. In their analysis, city officials had found the easement on the site not large enough for vehicles to regularly use to enter and exit a parking lot. A curb cut on Davis St. might provide some additional parking but it would eliminate street parking and reduce the commercial space that fronts the street, officials said.

The applicants maintain they can meet the need for parking other ways. Most employees of the restaurants either will use public transportation or walk to work, they said.

Several parking lots in the area along with valet service and nearby city parking garages are other possibilities.

Kelch told aldermen at the meeting that if a curb cut were required, the applicants would have to remove roughly 30 percent of the project’s rental area, making it an unfeasible project.

He said the four spaces he had in front of Lulu’s at its former site often went unused.

Alderman Melissa Wynne noted that the city’s Sherman Avenue garage down the street (actually several blocks away) is where most people would go if having dinner, “and especially if there is an event they’ll [the restaurant people will] want to direct people to.”

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