Lulu’s, Taco Diablo plan to open January 2016

Paige Leskin, Managing Editor

Evanston resident Daniel Kelch’s businesses have not had the best of luck in the city.

First, his Mexican restaurant Taco Diablo was destroyed by an early morning fire in December 2013 that also burned through two other businesses.

Three months later, he closed his Asian restaurant Lulu’s, which opened 23 years ago. Although it was profitable, the restaurant was running on “cruise control,” Kelch said in a post on Lulu’s site.

But both restaurants will be back in operation by next year. Construction will start this week at 1026 Davis St. — two doors down from Cozy Noodles and Rice — and should be finished by January 2016, Kelch said.

“Today is a bright day,” Kelch told a crowd at the new site Friday. “It’s really easy to work in this community. That kind of environment, it’s kind of extraordinary actually.”

Along with contractors, architects and co-owner Marty Cless, Kelch broke ground Friday at the storefront’s plot, now empty after the building that once housed Tom Thumb Hobby & Crafts was torn down in January.

Kelch enthusiastically chatted and drank with community members, filling them in on the finalized design for the restaurants and the story of how the idea came about.

Kelch said he knew almost immediately after the fire that he wanted to bring back Taco Diablo, which had a short life of about 18 months. In January 2014 — a month after Taco Diablo burned down — Cless, a regular customer, contacted Kelch about reopening the restaurant.

The two discussed their visions for the new place, Cless said, resulting in a revitalized concept for the new storefront, which sits across the street from Taco Diablo’s original location. Those working on the new building, Kelch said, are all local and familiar with the city: Myefski Architects is based down the street, the contractor LG Construction + Development just worked on Smylie Brothers Brewing Company and the interior designer has a company in Evanston.

The new two-story building will include Lulu’s and Taco Diablo under the same roof and with a shared kitchen, but the two will have separate menus and seating. A year-round bar and lounge with a “retro” feel called Five & Dime will be located on the top floor, Kelch said, and will have an outdoor deck and a beer garden for when the weather is nice.

“There will be food up there, but it’s going to have a flavor of more of a bar,” Kelch told The Daily in September. “It’ll be kind of a place where we hope people will come and just hang out, have a drink, spend an afternoon. We think that will help drive more revenue to help keep us a viable entity.”

The rest of the space next to the restaurant will be available for one or two retail stores, Kelch said. Beyond the first floor, the owners plan to use the roof to expand their visions. Kelch said they want to build a shed — used to store outdoor furniture in the winter and house a recreation room for ping pong and other games in the summer — and an “urban garden,” where organic vegetables would be grown and sold to local businesses.

The new versions of the restaurants will include new menus, although many of the old dishes residents liked will stay, Kelch said.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl joked that the owners needed to keep the Taco Diablo menu as it was in 2013, but she also stressed the significance of having both restaurants back in Evanston.

“We didn’t need a fire to tell us how important Lulu’s and Taco Diablo are to the city,” Tisdahl said. “We’re a big city … but we’re also a small town and community.”

Kelch said the city has been supportive in helping him bring back his restaurants and in working with him to get permits approved. Downtown Evanston, a nonprofit that aims to improve the city’s economy, has also helped the owners by providing support and market development to spread the word about the restaurants, executive director Annie Coakley said.

The owners have had their floor plans approved by the city, but contractors are still meeting with the city’s project manager to finalize the building design, Cless said.

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Twitter: @paigeleskin