Kim Shimkus, owner of Manouche, and Veronica Cibotaru show off Spur Farm CSA boxes. | Melissa Elsmo

A love of bees inspired Veronica Cibotaru, owner of Delia’s Kitchen, formerly housed at 1034 Lake St. in Oak Park, to purchase a small farm in Portage, Indiana in 2018. She once used the property to grow produce for use in the restaurant, but today Spur Farm is the lifeline keeping the restaurateur connected to the earth and her community after a devasting fire destroyed her 12-year-old downtown Oak Park restaurant in November 2021. As she busies herself growing vegetables and harvesting honey, Cibotaru, is using the summer to pause and ponder a potential return to Lake Street.

The Lake Street building that housed Delia’s Kitchen was deemed a total loss and Cameron Davis, assistant director of development customer services for the Village of Oak Park, confirmed a demolition permit was issued for the property, but a building permit has not yet been issued for a new structure. While the demolition is clearly underway, Cibotaru indicated her former landlords have a keen interest in rebuilding.

Veronica Cibotaru organizes produce for Spur Farm CSA boxes | Melissa Elsmo

“They want to build a brand-new building and want to design it with Delia’s in mind,” said Cibotaru. “My landlords are nice people, and they want me back, but they are still figuring out the business angle.”

The restaurant owner fears the new restaurant may be too big for her business or take years to become a reality. But it seems like waiting for a new building to pop up in the same location may be her only option to revive the beloved restaurant. Cibotaru looked for a new home for Delia’s but found rents in Oak Park to be cost prohibitive.

“Delia’s has to be in Oak Park. Going somewhere else would feel like starting over, but the rents were just too high for me,” said Cibotaru. “I know my limits. I have been doing this for a long time and I know how much my restaurant can make.”

Cibotaru expressed concern that rent on space in a new building in the same location may also end up being higher than what she can afford but remains optimistic that striking a deal to bring Delia’s back to life is possible. 

In the wake of the blaze the community rallied around the breakfast-focused restaurant with a GoFundMe amassing more than $30,000 for the displaced owner and her loyal staff. Cibotaru dedicated herself to finding local jobs for Delia’s employees; both Louie’s Grill in Forest Park and George’s in Oak Park found hours for the seasoned servers. In fact, Cibotaru herself takes Sunday shifts at George’s, 145 S. Oak Park Ave., to stay connected to her Oak Park community and visit her longtime friends and co-workers.

Produce aplenty in a Spur Farm CSA box | Melissa Elsmo

In addition to pitching in at George’s, Cibotaru shifted her primary professional focus to Spur Farm where she embraces regenerative organic growing practices. She had always wanted to give the farm more attention but did not have enough time to make it more than a hobby. In addition to hosting 10 honey bee hives, the farm helped to prop up Delia’s at the height of the pandemic through sales of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes. After the fire, Cibotaru managed to increase growing capacity on the farm and now offers a generous weekly box filled with items like Swiss chard, Russian kale, zucchini, carrots, beets and fresh herbs. Many Spur Farm CSA customers live in the Oak Park area and pick up their weekly boxes from Manouche, a women’s clothing boutique at 146 N. Oak Park Ave. Vegetables grown by Cibotaru are also sold at Sugar Beet Co-op, 812 Madison St.

“Farming has taught me patience and bonding with nature and has been very healing for me,” said Cibotaru who admits she is at a crossroads. “I am still traumatized by what happened, but I know the universe brought me the farm at the perfect time. I am taking the summer to figure out what is next for me.”

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