Clarke’s Off Campus brings its food and history to a new location on Davis Street


Joshua Irvine/Daily Senior Staffer

Clarke’s Off Campus moved to a new location in September. This is the restaurant’s first change of address since it opened over 30 years ago.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Among the memorabilia covering the walls of Clarke’s Off Campus is a sign that reads, “Clarke’s: Home of the Wildcats since 1985.” The Wildcats, or the students Clarke’s serves every day, are why the restaurant moved to a larger location in September.

Yolanda Ewing-Tsatas, Clarke’s owner, said the restaurant needed more room to serve the NU and Evanston communities, and sometimes, the University’s entire football team.

“Students come to Clarke’s with parties of ten or more,” Ewing-Tsatas said. “We want everyone to feel comfortable, and we needed to expand to continue to do so.”

Clarke’s has been a household name in Evanston since it opened more than 30 years ago. Ewing-Tsatas said it was “originally like a bakery” in the ’70s. That changed when Ewing-Tsatas’ father-in-law, Nicholas Tsatas, retired from working in factories, gathered his savings and purchased Clarke’s, both the business and its name. Tsatas transformed Clarke’s into an eatery with his sons, including Ewing-Tsatas’ husband, Tom Tsatas. Eventually, after Ewing-Tsatas and her husband met in 1999, she became the restaurant’s owner.

Moving to Davis Street is Clarke’s first change of address in its decades-long history. With it, Ewing-Tsatas updated the business where she saw fit. First, she added “Off Campus” to the restaurant’s name. Ewing-Tsatas was inspired to do this because she wanted Evanston residents to know that “Clarke’s is not just a place for students.” She noted the many corporate offices in Downtown Evanston, and said their employees often frequent Clarke’s for lunch.

To create a “warm restaurant feel with class,” Ewing-Tsatas chose to paint the new restaurant’s interior walls light blue and decorate them with pictures of NU football players as well as cutouts of newspaper articles about the restaurant. She said “a lot of time and money” went into the new location, which McCormick sophomore Conor McGarvey, a waiter at Clarke’s, said he appreciates.

“This is a more exciting environment for customers,” McGarvey said. “It’s a very welcoming place.”

One of the biggest changes to Clarke’s is its view. Instead of facing a road, the restaurant now looks onto the center of Downtown Evanston. Its huge windows give customers a view of Fountain Square, and sunlight brightens the room. Carlos Garcia, who has been a waiter at Clarke’s for about 12 years, said the location on Davis Street “is a whole new opportunity for business.”

Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she is also excited about Clarke’s new home.

“Clarke’s is going to get a larger audience now, from things like people coming off the train in the morning,” Coakley said. “Because they’re now in the center of town, they have community members to rely on for business during the day, in addition to the constant influx of students.”

As for Clarke’s menu, Ewing-Tsatas worked with Noi Diez, the restaurant’s chef of about 30 years, to create new dishes. Some new options feature popular ingredients like avocados, which inspired the “Avocado Abby,” a slice of wheat toast with avocado spread and melted cheese. Clarke’s also added the Impossible Burger to its menu for vegetarian and vegan customers, and premiered the “Tommy Burger” for meat-lovers — a half-pound patty served with special sauce, melted American cheese, sliced pickles and lettuce. The new dishes complement Clarke’s classic pancakes and omelets, as well as its salads, sandwiches and skillets.

While there are new elements to Clarke’s Off Campus, some things remain the same. Ewing-Tsatas is as dedicated to her customers as ever. From the last few months, she recounted memories of personally delivering breakfast to a student’s sorority house on her birthday, and serving television host Jerry Springer (Pritzker ’68) a meal. Ewing-Tsatas said “seeing friendly faces” at Clarke’s is what “wakes her up every morning.”

“I love seeing people come back to the restaurant and take their college reunion pictures in front of our building,” said Ewing-Tsatas. “That’s how much Clarke’s means to people.”

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