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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published May 12, 2011                                                      

Downtown makes room for restaurants

By Ken Knutson

   Yamandu Perez, owner of Hinsdale’s Zak’s Place, said he does not fear increased competition by the opening of new restaurants in the village.
   In fact, he welcomes the variety.
   “It gives people a choice, a difference. I think when people have choices, it benefits the town,” he said.
   That diversity helps him focus on his menu, Perez said, and not feel compelled to be all things to all diners.
   He is quick to add that he regularly patronizes his neighbors to enjoy cuisine that his establishment may not serve.
   “We share customers. I see them as partners, because I want people to come to town,” he said.
   Since Zak’s Place opened in 2007, the downtown business district has welcomed Il Poggiolo, Nabuki, Dips and Dogs and, earlier this year, a relocated Firenze.
   It has also seen the closing of Salbute, the arrival and departure of New Yolk, New Yolk and the recent end of Zingelman’s 25-year run.
   According to village budget information, revenue from the food and beverage tax jumped from $237,613 in the 2008-09 fiscal year to $313,998 in 2009-10. The figure is estimated to have dipped this past year to $281,000 but is projected to rebound slightly in 2011-12.
   Perez said he detects a greater sense of optimism among proprietors and customers than he did a couple of years ago.
   “The overall mood and feel of people is noticeably more positive compared to what it was in January 2009,” Perez said.
   Possible evidence of that renewed confidence is the news that the former Zingelman’s site is getting a new tenant.
   Kristie Fraga, co-owner of the soon-to-open Doggie Diner, said she was attracted to Hinsdale’s close-knit nature.
   “Hinsdale seems to be really community-based. That’s something we really like,” Fraga said. “We’re trying to go into a community where we get that feel, where it’s not too big or overwhelming for us.”
   She said the shop will be the latest in a chain with locations in several western suburbs, each of which seeks to invest in local organizations and events.
   “We’re really involved with the schools, the sports, the churches,” Fraga said. “That’s part of our success. You get to know your customers and their families. I think people enjoy that kind of service.”
   She said having a vibrant restaurant selection will help draw more people into the village, particularly those within walking or biking distance.
   “In this economy, if people have a choice, I think people prefer to shop locally for the convenience,” Fraga said.
   Peter Burdi, owner of Il Poggiolo and Nabuki, said restaurants need time to become part of the landscape in people’s minds.
   “I think what’s happening is that once you’ve been there for a couple of years, the pool of people gets larger and larger,” he said.
   As the country’s economy continues to strengthen, he thinks restaurants can help fuel a reinvigoration of the downtown business district.
   “People are coming to the restaurants. They’ve been there for a long time. Food definitely helps bring people into town,” he said.
   He said place such as Dips and Dogs or Doggie Diner help meet the needs of families and the younger set looking for a more casual experience.
   “I think it helps. Kids are in there during the afternoon,” he said.
   Burdi doesn’t believe that the Hinsdale will ever have the concentration of restaurants that exists in some surrounding towns because of the absence of a high-traffic thoroughfare.
   But he doesn’t think that is a necessary ingredient to having a successful menu of dining options.
   “I’ve always been of the school of thought that if you give people a good product and good service, they’ll come back,” Burdi said.




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