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Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the new Marion Street Cheese Market.
Chairs in the new Marion Street Cheese Market are made from old seatbelts. It’s one of many green features-counters made of recycled glass, wood paneling from a sustainable forest-in the 4,200-square-foot food emporium that opened yesterday morning in the Opera Club building at Marion Street and South Boulevard, just south of the train tracks.
“It was a serious and substantial financial commitment,” said Eric Larson, 43, the Berwyn resident who in 2004 opened the wine and cheese shop by the same name at North Boulevard and Marion. “There’s a level of risk. But it’s also a project that we’re doing for the long term. We’re sinking our roots deep into Oak Park.”
In the expanded Marion Street Cheese Market, Larson and two partners have a 50-seat restaurant, café, bar, kitchenware specialty shop and upscale grocery store. The original staff of eight will balloon to 50. The old location will be kept as a meat market.
Lombard resident Michael Pivoney, 43, is chef and a partner in the restaurant. He worked to open five-star hotels across the country and most recently spent the past five years as executive chef at The Signature Room in downtown Chicago.
While developing the menu-for breakfast, lunch and dinner-Pivoney focused on locally grown products and, of course, cheese. The majority of ingredients will come from farms in the Midwest.
“Every ingredient we’re trying to get is close to our establishment,” he said. “We’re trying to respect the carbon footprint; we’re trying to respect the local producers. It’s going to make it a little tougher … but I think the big guys are doing fine by themselves.”
Breakfast offerings include crepes, pastries, quiche and pizza.
For lunch, Pivoney pointed to the Inside-Out Grilled Cheese sandwich as one of his favorites, with crispy gruyere, brie and pickled fresh vegetables.
Other items include paninis, soups, salads, thin crust pizzas, fondue and, yes, cheese plates.
“I want it to be a celebration of food,” he said. “We want people to share and have fun.”
The menu is small-plate, tapas style, meant for sharing. It will change with the seasons as different ingredients become available. It will take 10 days or so before the market starts serving its full menu.
Ingredients for the restaurant’s dishes will also be available in the grocer section, which accounts for about 60 percent of the new space.
About 300 different cheeses will be available over the course of a year, 90 at a given time, said Cheese Manager Lex Marshall. Their focus is on American, artisan cheese while also providing European cheeses.
The market offers a small selection of fruits and vegetables. It also has everything from spices, meats and more.
As for beverages, Marion Street Cheese Market serves coffee from Blue Max Café and tea from Todd & Holland, both in Forest Park. More than 72 different wines are available by the glass, and 60 beers are available by bottle (or packaged). The market has 180 different varieties of packaged wine for sale, ranging from $8 to $112 a bottle.
Five locally brewed beers are available on tap at their bar. The owners hope to eventually do meet-and-greet events with local brewers at the market. They’ll also highlight beer and cheese pairings.
They have a gift section which includes food-related games, cookbooks, wine accessories, picnic baskets and specialty cookware, including a cow-print KitchenAid stand mixer.
Mary Jo Schuler, 46, is a third partner in the venture. Larson invited the Oak Parker on board while she was a customer at the original store. Schuler served as project manager for the buildout. She selected River Forest’s Nevin Hedlund Architects to design the new space. The new space is owned, not leased.
“I think that our community has a strong appetite for the venue that we have built as well as the product that we will be delivering,” Schuler said. “I think it’s a very calculated risk.”
Larson believes the cheese market will have regional and national draw, that people visiting Chicago will feel inclined to pop over to Oak Park to check it out. But locals, the partners hope, will be their safety belt.
“It’s scary; it’s definitely going to be a risk,” said Larson. “We have a challenge ahead of us and we’re up to it.”