Lathrop House Café, the latest in a series of restaurants to occupy the first floor of the house at 26 Lathrop Ave., has closed as of April 30.
Owner Patrick O’Brien didn’t respond to calls seeking comment by deadline, but a post on the café’s official Facebook page stated that he wanted to focus on his two other, more successful, restaurants — Forest Park’s Scratch Kitchen and Lounge (SKL), 7505 Madison St., and Oak Park’s Scratch on Lake, 733 Lake St.
O’Brien’s sister owns the building, so anything that happens to the space going forward is in her hands.
While the house was built as a residential home, it is zoned as B-1 Neighborhood Shopping District, which limits residential units to the second floor or higher and allows commercial uses, including restaurant uses, on the first floor.
It also happened to be the house where O’Brien started his career as a restaurateur. He and his sister, Bridget Pettinger, bought it in 1995 to take advantage of the zoning. They built a commercial kitchen on the property and added a large, enclosed porch to increase dining space. They named the restaurant Lathrop House and offered coffee, muffins and sandwiches, along with special menu items. O’Brien lived above the restaurant.
Three years later, he sold his share of the business and worked as a chef at Oak Park’s Cucina Pardiso and Avenue Alehouse. Lathrop House went through several uses before becoming the Blue Max Café in 2005. After that closed in late May 2019, O’Brien reopened it as Lathrop House Café on Aug. 17, 2020.
The new café followed a similar approach as the Scratch restaurants, making all of its ingredients in-house.
O’Brien’s restaurants struggled through the pandemic. He closed Oak Park Art District’s District Kitchen and Tap in April 2021, and he closed SKL for 10 months in 2022.
In April, O’Brien moved SKL from its original location at 7445 Madison St. to the former Slainte Irish Pub, which came with a full-fledged kitchen and a second-floor event space.
The statement on Lathrop House’s Facebook page indicated that this was one of the things O’Brien intended to focus on going forward.
“Our business model has shifted, and we will focus on the development and growth of our flagship concept [Scratch Kitchen],” it stated. “Going strong in Oak Park, and our newly opened Public House in Forest Park has hit the ground running. Please stop by and continue to enjoy the same level of food and service as you’ve experienced at our café.”
According to Cook County records, Pettinger still owns the building. The zoning gives her some latitude about what happens next. Aside from restaurant uses, B-1 zoning allows most retail uses, bakeries (only so long as the goods are sold on site), hair salons, dry cleaners and laundry services. It can’t be used as a hotel or anything that is allowed in industrial districts.