Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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A budding South Evanston business venture combines bakery, dispensary

Saul Pink/Daily Senior Staffer
The interior of the OKAY Cannabis dispensary. The owners are putting finishing touches on the dispensary and the West Town Bakery that is attached to it.

At a new South Evanston business set to open next month, customers will be able to purchase coffee, croissants and cannabis all under one roof.

A bakery connected to Evanston’s second dispensary will open mid-February at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Howard Street in a joint venture between OKAY Cannabis and West Town Bakery.

Patrons hoping to indulge in cannabis products or regular baked goods — or both — must enter the bakery from the street. A neon green sign above a door next to the bakery’s counter points cannabis-seeking customers to the dispensary, which can only be accessed through the bakery.

“You can come here for a cup of coffee in the morning and get a pastry. You don’t ever have to go to the dispensary, but you can if you want to,” said Ameya Pawar, a Chicago City Council member-turned-entrepreneur who co-founded OKAY Cannabis. 

The bakery-dispensary tentatively plans to host a grand opening on Feb. 15 but is awaiting final inspections from the state, according to John Aldape, the director of concept development for The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, which owns both OKAY Cannabis and West Town Bakery.

The bakery will be open from 7 a.m. into the evening to cater to commuters using the Chicago Transit Authority’s Howard Station, serving everything from pastries and local coffee to West Town Bakery’s signature “cakeballs.” 

On the other side of a bright green wall, the dispensary will carry a range of cannabis products, mostly sourced from local craft cultivators. Before entering the dispensary, customers must get their ID checked and be added to a visitor log, in compliance with state law. 

West Town Bakery and OKAY Cannabis opened a similar business in Wheeling, Illinois last year. The bakery and dispensary also have adjacent locations in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood that are not physically linked.

“The big misnomer that we’ve been fighting since we opened (in Wheeling) is that our baked goods are infused with THC,” Aldape said. “This is a family-friendly bakery.”

The opening of Evanston’s second dispensary has a broader significance: the city’s 3% tax on cannabis products, which helps fund the city’s reparations program, will soon draw in more revenue for the first-of-its-kind initiative.

The tax was originally the sole source for payments to eligible Black Evanston residents through the Restorative Housing Program. But lower-than-expected revenues from Evanston’s sole dispensary prompted the City Council to allocate funds from the real estate transfer tax to the program. 

The city has completed its $25,000 payments to eligible recipients in the “ancestor” category, which includes Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969. Now, direct descendants of ancestors are eligible for the same sum of money.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), whose ward encompasses the new bakery-dispensary and who sits on the Reparations Committee, said the opening of a second dispensary is a game changer. 

“With this additional revenue, it means that we will be able to distribute reparations to even more folks annually — potentially, somewhere between 15 and 20,” Reid said.

Pawar cited the reparations program as one of the reasons the business chose to locate in Evanston. 

He added that OKAY Cannabis is majority minority-owned and received a social equity dispensary license from the state — a license for groups that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis-related arrests.

Aldape said he hopes the novel business will become a South Evanston mainstay. 

“Every community that we’re in, we’re excited to be here,” Aldape said. “We want to be a fixture in this neighborhood.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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