Former Bar Louie exec will focus on locally grown foods at Oak Park spot

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Oak Parker Rachel Dennis rose from waitress, to lawyer, to executive for a national restaurant company. Now, she plans to fulfill her lifelong dream, by opening a bar and restaurant in downtown Oak Park this summer.

Dennis, 39, granted her first interview last week to talk about Lake Street Kitchen + Bar, after the village approved her liquor license on June 20. She was "disappointed" to hear that a burger chain was going to take over the high-traffic corner of Lake and Marion, after Cosi restaurant closed in March. So Dennis inquired to the landlord about the space, the deal ended up falling through with Johnny Rockets, and she snatched up the storefront by signing a 10-year lease in May.

She just left her job as vice president of the corporation that owns the Bar Louie chain, since BL Restaurant Operations is moving to Texas. That turn of events set her up to chase her dream.

"It had always been in the back of my mind that someday I would love to own my own restaurant," Dennis said, later adding, "It just seemed like the right time. I didn't want to do it when I was 60."

They've set about transforming the Cosi space into a bar and restaurant, described as "rustic but classy," using metal, glass, wood and stone, decorated with natural colors. Lake Street Kitchen will have a bar that stretches north-south, the length of the establishment, and an open kitchen that allows customers to see their food being prepared.

The business will likely start off being open for lunch and dinner during the week, and breakfast, too, on weekends, with a close time of 2 a.m. all week. Their menu will change by the seasons and use ingredients from local farmers.

Offerings include a design-your-own frittata option, roasted in their wood-burning oven; tapas plates, such as pork belly and potatoes; and paninis, like apple and brie or organic peanut butter and jelly.

Dennis plans to have a full liquor bar that focuses on local beers and wines. She hopes to open Lake Street Bar Kitchen, 1101 Lake, in August. A website is in the works at

Reader Comments

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Violet Aura  

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 5:49 PM

Oh. I was hoping it was gonna be an organic produce market.

vegan o.p. resident  

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 5:41 PM

A few vegan/vegetarian options on menu would be nice. I am vegan, my partner is not...always a challenge to go out to eat here in town. Even something as simple as a hummus and crudite plate or a good home made bean burger would be appreciated. Looking forward to your opening. Best of luck to you!


Posted: July 12th, 2011 2:45 PM

I think this location wont work for a bar. Especially a high priced bar. No parking and congestion. BTW how is the Sushi House doing? I cant imagine that they are making bundles of money after the amount of money they put into that place?

O P Resident  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 11:43 PM

Make sure you dot your I's and cross your T's with Mr Shaker when you sign your lease.

Rachel Dennis from Oak Park  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 10:45 PM

Hello! I am excited about my new venture. I wanted to clarify a point that Marty made in the article and that "OP resident" mentioned--the bar that is designed is an artchitectural feature that will include a bar in the traditional sense but also a kitchen bar. I already have my full liquor license and intend to use it ... but the bar will also run in front of the open kitchen and prep area that includes a stone hearth oven. I invite you to visit when we open!

Long Time DTOP Business Owner from Chicago  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 9:28 PM

Looking forward to our new neighbor! Hope all goes smoothly and you open soon. I know you will please all of your customers with your selections.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 8:17 PM

Good to see someone local who was trained by the Bar Louie conglomerate opening a place to compete directly with them. It shouldn't be too hard to come up with better food and better service.

I Live Here from Oak Park  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 5:17 PM

Yay! Someone investing in Oak Park! Yay! more contributions to the tax base! Welcome and best of luck!

OP resident  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 4:53 PM

I'm confused - is the primary feature of this new business going to be local produce or the full-length bar that will be open until 2:00 AM? How much local produce do we think those after-midnight guzzlers will be consuming?


Posted: July 6th, 2011 2:01 PM

Sounds promising. Best of Luck! And most of all, thanks for saving us from the likes of another Johnny Rockets.

Lori Em  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 11:53 AM

I hope the service is better than at Bar Louie.

O P Resident  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 4:51 AM

Te rent is probably the highest in the market and good luck with parking.

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