A Joint Venture: Land Use Commission paves the way for bakery-dispensary to open in South Evanston


Graphic by Roxanne Panas

A new proposal for a joint bakery and dispensary in South Evanston cleared the Land Use Commission on Wednesday.

Saul Pink, Newsletter Editor

Evanston is one step closer to building its second dispensary after the Land Use Commission recommended the approval of a combined bakery and dispensary on Chicago Avenue in a Wednesday meeting. 

Chicago dispensary chain OKAY Cannabis and bakery chain West Town Bakery, both owned by CESAM LLC., submitted a proposal for a joint development on the ground floor of the new Evanston Gateway apartment complex at 100 Chicago Ave. Although the businesses applied for separate special-use permits, they plan to operate in tandem: customers can only access the dispensary by entering the bakery. 

“What we’re hoping to do is really create an experience,” said Ameya Pawar, the co-founder of OKAY Cannabis. “If you want to come to West Town Bakery and have a cup of coffee and don’t want to buy cannabis, that’s okay. If you’d like to buy a cup of coffee and purchase cannabis, that’s okay, too.”

A similar joint development between West Town Bakery and OKAY Cannabis opened in Wheeling, Illinois in February, which Pawar said is the model for the project in Evanston.

The bakery will not sell cannabis-infused baked goods, Pawar said. Those who want to enter the dispensary from the bakery will have to show a government-issued ID displaying they are 21 or older.

West Town Bakery plans to separately apply for a liquor license, which goes through the Liquor Control Review Board.

Former Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who helped secure approval for the Evanston Gateway project, said the bakery-dispensary is the “second-best use” for the building’s ground floor. She’d prefer a grocery store.

“I would say that 80% of the population has no idea that there’s a dispensary on Maple Avenue,” Rainey said. “That’s a bad thing because people are going outside of Evanston to buy dispensary items.” 

Evanston currently has one dispensary: Zen Leaf on Maple Avenue. The city’s 3% tax on cannabis helps fund the city’s Restorative Housing Program, the first part of Evanston’s reparations program. Pawar said he is “excited” that the tax from his dispensary would go toward the program.

Rainey said the bakery should open earlier than the proposed 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours to accommodate commuters going to the Howard CTA station, which is just steps from the development.

Pawar, the former alderman for Chicago’s 47th Ward, is a minority owner of OKAY Cannabis. Chicago Public Schools interim Chief Operating Officer Charles Mayfield is the majority owner. 

During the Wednesday meeting, the commissioners mainly asked technical questions about deliveries and coordination with residents of the Gateway development. 

Commissioner Matt Rodgers, who said he lives close to the proposed bakery-dispensary, noted that new dispensaries often go unnoticed.

“(Dispensaries) blend in so well with the rest of the commercial real estate that it’s not something that I think would have a harm on the property values in the neighborhood,” Rodgers said.

Commissioner Kristine Westerberg asked why it makes sense to have a bakery attached to a dispensary. In response, Pawar said he wants to “normalize the narrative” around purchasing cannabis. 

A special-use permit is a permission granted by the city for a property owner to use their land in a way not typically allowed under existing zoning rules. The Land Use Commission, made up of Evanston residents, hears applications for special-use permits and makes recommendations to the Planning & Development Committee and City Council.

Pawar said OKAY Cannabis faces a July 22 deadline to show “substantial work and progress” in order to hold onto its dispensary license. With a recommendation from the Land Use Commission, the proposal will move to the Planning & Development Committee and City Council for approval.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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