Ravi Parakkat and Cassie Carroll discuss Oak Park’s  green future at Hemmingway’s Bistro | Melissa Elsmo

Takeout 25 has partnered with the Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA) to seize the opportunity to form Illinois’ first ever “Green Dining District” in the Oak Park area. The Urbana-Champaign based organization is funding the local program through grants and has ambitions to grow this first effort into a state-wide program.

The effort is in early stages, but responses from restaurant owners have been positive to date. Ravi Parakkat, founder of Takeout 25 and a current village trustee was joined by Cassie Carroll, director and co-founder of IGBA to make a presentation to restaurateurs at an owners meet up held in October. The group agreed that it would be compelling and unique to build the state’s first sustainable restaurant eco-system.

While IGBA’s program for Takeout 25 restaurants will be modeled after green dining districts located in St. Louis and Reno, the Oak Park area program will be built from the ground up with considerable input from restaurant owners.

To get the ball rolling, Carroll is completing on-site assessments in approximately 12 Oak Park area restaurants. She has already completed assessments at Carnivore and The Daly Bagel and expects to visit Khyber Pass, Na Siam, Addis Café, Anfora Wine Merchants, Spilt Milk, Poke Burrito, Blackout Baking, Media Noche Café (Berwyn) and Top Butcher (Chicago) in the coming weeks and months.

“I am looking at things like volume, production style, energy consumption, water use and waste,” said Carroll who started IGBA in 2008 and has restaurant industry experience. “We can find ways to help individual restaurants meet their sustainability goals, but we will also find common threads between businesses that will help us create a green baseline for the area. From there we can create criteria for participation in a community wide program.”

Additionally, Carroll is eager to amplify the good decisions local restaurants are already making and build upon those successes. She said simple tradeoffs like switching to a programmable thermostat that can be set to a lower temperature outside of business hours can create enough savings to allow for the purchase of eco-friendly packaging products.

“It’s about finding wiggle room in the budget,” said Carroll. “There is a gap in the economy that leaves smaller businesses behind when it comes to sustainability, and we want to help them do more by taking advantage of small opportunities and working collaboratively.”

While this effort naturally centers around Oak Park, Parakkat said he does not want to exclude any restaurants affiliated with Takeout 25 from participating in the green dining program. Parakkat and Carroll agree they are aiming for 25% of Takeout 25 affiliated restaurants to become part of the program to officially become a “green dining district.” The program could expand naturally from there.

Parakkat is clear he is interested in executing the program in a “commercially responsible” manner that has value for restaurants in Oak Park, River Forest and surrounding communities. Carroll backs up this thinking by highlighting the collaborative nature of the program and both agree businesses should be attracted to the marketing and PR value of becoming the first collection of restaurants to form a green dining district in Illinois.

Parakkat and Carroll anticipate solidifying and sharing the criteria for participation by April 2023. They intend to roll out the program next summer. Participation will be voluntary and restaurants opting into the program will be subject to annual assessments to ensure they are meeting program requirements.

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