Latin kitchen draws crowds in opening week


Ebony Calloway/The Daily Northwestern

Tomate Fresh Kitchen, 914 1/2 Noyes St., has had a steady stream of customers since it opened Oct. 31. The new business filled the storefront left vacant by Ice & A Slice, which went out of business last spring.

Maddie Elkins, Reporter

Tomate Fresh Kitchen drew so many customers in its first week open that it ran out of food.

The restaurant, 914 1/2 Noyes St., opened Oct. 31 and finally filled the storefront left vacant by Ice & A Slice, which went out of business in the spring.

“It was unbelievable,” owner Tania Merlos-Ruiz said. “The first day we opened, we were just so overwhelmed with customers, and I just didn’t expect that. I expected more of a trickle as people are getting to know us, but we’ve had a huge line.”

As the week progressed, demand stayed the same, Ruiz said. By Friday, the restaurant ran out of food.

Ruiz said she started selling empanadas this year at Evanston’s indoor Farmer and Artisan Food Market and then at the outdoor Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market. Because of her product’s reception, Ruiz looked to open a restaurant.

“I didn’t want a big restaurant or anything too fancy,” she said. “I passed by this place, and it had a ‘for rent’ sign. As soon as I walked in the door, I felt it, a gut feeling like, ‘This is it. This is where I want to be.’ It wasn’t big enough where I would get so overwhelmed, and I thought it was just the perfect spot.”

Compared to long-standing businesses such as Al’s Deli and Rollin’ To Go, Ice & A Slice’s lack of success was an anomaly, said Jim Ticus, owner of 910, 914 and 914 1/2 Noyes St. With the exception of Ice & A Slice, all businesses in his buildings have been open for at least seven years.

Ticus said Rollin’ In Dough, a caterer associated with nearby sandwich shop Rollin’ To Go, had been located at 914 1/2 Noyes St. for more than 20 years before its owner retired. Ice & A Slice took over Rollin’ in Dough’s lease and then went out of business.

“You’ve got the 65-year Al’s Deli that brings the average up, but Rollin’ To Go’s been there for seven or eight years and is doing fine,” Ticus said. “So really the only one turnover was a function of the person wanting to retire and Ice & A Slice that didn’t make it.”

Back at Tomate Fresh Kitchen, Ruiz said he hopes customers aren’t put off by the restaurant’s first-week food shortage.

“I hope people understand that it was the first week, and we were trying to see what it would be like,” Ruiz said. “We had a really good response with people and friends telling their friends about it.”

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