Evanston original Lucy’s Cafe becomes Roscoe Village’s only vegetarian brunch spot


Photo courtesy of Lucy’s Cafe.

Lucy’s Cafe. First established in Evanston as Victory’s Banner, Lucy’s is the only vegetarian restaurant in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago.

Avani Kalra, Assistant City Editor

When Chicago resident Pradhan Balter (McCormick ’72) opened his first restaurant in downtown Evanston back in 1982, he said it was the first vegetarian establishment ever reviewed by Chicago magazine. 

Now called Lucy’s Cafe, the restaurant, located in Roscoe Village, Chicago is the first vegetarian breakfast and brunch spot in the neighborhood. The restaurant closed its Evanston location and reopened in Chicago in 1999. Originally called Victory’s Banner,  Balter named the establishment to honor the writings of his guru, Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader. 

“The restaurant was vegetarian because everything embodies consciousness,” Balter said. “When you eat an animal, you absorb the consciousness of an animal. Being vegetarian is a small thing you can do to facilitate your spiritual life.” 

Balter opened his first restaurant after feeling unsatisfied in his work as a chiropractor. He studied mediation under Sri Chinmoy, who suggested he course and pursue a profession more in line with his spirituality. 

“I tried to serve humanity and bring joy to humanity,” Balter said. “A restaurant served as a perfect vehicle for doing that because people come in and they’re receptive, they want to be served and they want to be made happy.” 

Though he said vegetarianism wasn’t popular in the 1980s, the restaurant’s menu options did not hinder business.

Balter guaranteed his product to his customers, offering to pay full meals if customers did not enjoy them. In his years owning and operating Victory’s Banner, he said only two or three customers left the establishment because they refused to eat a vegetarian meal.

Opening Victory’s Banner allowed Balter to bring joy to humanity, he added.  

“You have to cook with love and you have to cook with genuine concern for the person who you’re serving. That’s the difference between a home-cooked meal and a restaurant meal,” Balter said.

Chefs and married couple Martin Faisal and Luciana Lencina were hired in 2015 and renamed the restaurant Lucy’s Cafe. The couple moved from Argentina in 2015 when Faisal took a job as head chef of the restaurant. Shortly after, Lencina was hired to wash dishes and clean the restaurant. They bought the restaurant in 2016.

Martin Faisal said it was important to the couple that they preserve Balter’s legacy with a vegetarian restaurant while developing a more specific niche for the establishment. He worked to add vegan and gluten free options to the menu. 

Though Martin Faisal said more Chicago restaurants offer vegetarian menu items now, many still cook their vegan and gluten free substitutions on the same surfaces as meat and bread. 

“Even if they allow for modifications, it’s not ample,” Martin Faisal said. “Celiac is a dangerous disease and we wanted to give people options.”

Faisal’s sister, Maria, started waitressing at Lucy’s two years ago. She said many customers have told her it’s hard to find restaurants that offer good quality gluten-free pancakes and bread, and more young people with dietary restrictions are becoming regulars. 

Maria Faisal said she appreciates her brother’s initiative, since she herself is vegetarian and working toward becoming vegan. 

 “The systematic abuse of animals in the meat and dairy industry is horrifying,” Maria Faisal said. “The fact that I work where we offer meatless products, it makes me so comfortable. I feel good.”

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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