Restaurant owner Jack DeMar said he’s seen a demand for “good mood food” in Evanston.
“Evanston has a student community and a more holistic neighborhood community and business community that could use more healthy, affordable, quick options,” he said. “It’s certainly how I like to eat, and I think it’s how more and more people are wanting to eat.”
Picnic, set to open the first week of May at 1619 Chicago Ave., will try to meet that demand.
The restaurant’s menu is inspired by the types of food DeMar likes to work with at home, including salads and grain bowls, he said. When cooking, DeMar likes to focus on vegetables, grains and lean proteins, along with flavorful sauces and dressings. Now, he will be cooking at Picnic everyday.
One of DeMar’s favorite menu sections is what he calls “picnics,” which are decked-out snack plates that he says could be a meal, appetizer or something to take to a park on a picnic. A mediterranean-inspired plate includes hummus, pita and olives. Similar to a charcuterie board, DeMarr said these plates are optimal for combining different foods.
Walking inside, customers can expect to see a relaxing, minimalist environment, DeMar said. The restaurant’s decor includes a huge mirror, a commissioned painting and colorful dried grasses and florals. He also said he wants to experiment with seasonal decor for the restaurant, which will not have a dining area.
“It’s particularly important because it’s carry-out, delivery only,” DeMar said. “So you’re only going to have this brief moment in time that you’re there. And I want it to be a moment that’s memorable.”
After growing up in Wilmette, DeMar moved to Evanston about four years ago. He has been cooking since he was about 12, watching Food Network and reading cookbooks, eventually turning it into a passion.
“I found a lot of joy in that whole experience from conceptualizing an idea of a recipe to the therapeutic process of cooking and cutting vegetables and preparing, and then you serve the food to your friends or family,” he said.
DeMar is a fourth-generation restaurant owner, and also owns Pono Ono. Drawing from his experience with his family’s now-closed Chicago restaurant, The Oak Tree, and from managing Pono Ono, DeMar said he has learned how to manage a business.
He plans to take a leading role in many areas of Picnic, including logo and branding, web design, social media and photography.
Picnic will also source most ingredients from local farmers rather than relying on a restaurant supply store, DeMar said.
“It’s just nicer when the farmers show up right with their truck and have all their food for you,
he said. “We’ve all had the experience where if you taste something that’s from closer to where you are, it was grown with a little more care, and it typically tastes better.”
Evanston resident Rhonda Wong-Calace said she is excited for Picnic’s opening because she frequently eats out while working.
“Evanston, for the most part, has healthier options than a lot of places,” Wong-Calace said. “There’s a lot of very indulgent places around which I really enjoy too, but it’s nice to have healthier options that are tasty.”
Medill junior Sara Frank, however, said she noticed other cities have better restaurant options for studying or eating healthy than Evanston.
As a result, she said she’s looking forward to having a location to quickly grab a salad.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Frank said. “(Evanston) needs more healthy spots like this.”
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