Church St. plaza loses 2nd eatery

Scott Gordon

Though Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, 901 Church St., this week became the second restaurant since May to leave Church Street Plaza, the project’s developers say it’s still a good place to do business.

The plaza, which was completed in November 2000 and centers around the Century Theatres at 1715 Maple Ave., is thriving on the whole, said Gene Reardon, director of finance for Arthur Hill & Co., the firm that developed and leases space in the plaza. Baja Fresh joins Corner Bakery Cafe as the only businesses in the plaza to have closed so far. The firm is still collecting rent on the vacant spaces, leaving Church Street Plaza 100 percent leased and 96 percent occupied, which Reardon calls “incredible.” And, Reardon added, there is still high demand for space in the plaza.

Reardon admitted that since it’s a “prime location,” spaces in Church Street Plaza are costly, requiring the business occupying it to perform strongly.

Megan Philbin, who used to manage the Evanston Baja Fresh and now manages the Baja Fresh at 180 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, said high rent costs in the area put a burden on both Baja and Corner Bakery, which closed May 5.

Scott Hasselberger, general manager of Noodles & Co., 930 Church St., said Corner Bakery and Baja Fresh probably did pay higher rents than some of the plaza’s other tenants, because both of them occupied corner spots. Noodles & Co.’s rent is relatively cheap because it is located in the middle of a block. Hasselberger said that in the last year, foot traffic in the area has increased by about 30 percent.

Whether a business succeeds or fails in the plaza has less to do with rent and more to do with the business’s ability to attract customers in a unique way, Hasselberger said. “Whatever you’re bringing to the community of Evanston has to be a pretty good concept,” he said.

The Evanston location of Corner Bakery, 950 Church St., was one of six “underperforming” Corner Bakery locations closed in May by parent company Brinker International, Brinker spokesman Louis Adams said.

“There were a lot of people who enjoyed that location, but just not enough at the end of the day, ” Adams said.

These closings were a relatively minor move for Brinker, which owns about 1,450 restaurants nationwide.

Adams said the Evanston location and the others were closed because they weren’t reaching certain levels of profit.

City Editor Scott Gordon is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]