IRVING PARK — A new coffee shop and bookstore is coming to a historic Irving Park building this fall.
The first floor of the building at 4200 W. Irving Park Rd. is being converted into a coffee shop named Finom, from the Hungarian word for delicious, according building permits with the city.
“The reason I’m doing Hungarian food, and why we chose Finom as the name, is that my wife is from Hungary. So this is kind of a homage to her,” Daniel Speer said. He and Rafael Esparza are the co-owners of the new business.
“There’s places you can get Hungarian dishes in Chicago, but not too many where you can get Hungarian cuisine. So I want people to enjoy the food and fall in love with it the way I fell in love with her culture as well,” Speer said.
The building is the oldest “mercantile structure” in the Irving Park community, according to the report submitted to the city’s landmark commission in 1989.
Originally built in 1889 by Henry E. Nichols, it first operated as the the Nichols & Son Grocery and had second-floor living quarters which was typically occupied by the store’s owner.
“In terms of architectural design, the simple two-story frame structure of the Nichols grocery store building evokes images of generic Western saloon architecture by the boxiness of the overall form,” the report said. “In its original configuration the store was distinguished by the fineness of its details. The first floor storefront was delicately proportioned, the facade opened up with wide expanses of plate glass framed by thin wood members.”
Increasing property values in Irving Park after it was annexed by Chicago led Nichole to sell the property in 1890. From that point forward, the store operated as a drugstore, library, possibly a toll station and most recently as a tavern called the Whistle Stop Inn during late 1980s and early 1990s.
Over the years some of the building’s various owners remodeled it without preserving its history and many of the original architectural features were lost. Beginning in 1986, the then-owners of the Whistle Stop Inn used a historic photo of how the building initially looked to recreate its original exterior.
This involved moving the entrance to the building back to its original location, re-siding the building with wood clapboard and by fabricating details for the second and first floor windows to approximate its original design. The city later awarded the building landmark status in 1990.
“Danny’s a really great guy and he’s doing a lot to respect the architectural history of the building, it couldn’t be in better hands,” said John Wilson, an architect with J.A.Wilson & Associates Architects who was contracted to help design Finom.
Once it opens, the business will be within walking distance to the neighborhood’s CTA Blue Line and Metra stations. Speer said he and his partner signed the lease for the space last December and renovations to the first floor interior have been underway since winter.
This entailed redoing the floors, bathrooms, plumbing and electric infrastructure and much more without changing the historic character of the building.
“We are a coffee shop, but we’re trying to be more than that. We want to be a place people can meet and provide a space for people in the area for people to host events,” Speer said. “We’re trying to slow down people’s pace, because everyone is so busy so we’re trying to be a throwback to a time when people lived a slower pace.”
To this end Finom will also feature a selection of books for its customers to read and purchase.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful about our selection of books. Like, we don’t want to stock the shelves with romance novels,” Speer said. “We’re trying to keep the titles interesting and we have a lot of friends that are librarians who have helped out.”
Speer wants Finom to follow in the tradition of older style, European coffee shops where writers and artists would congregate. The front windows were hand painted, he said, and once they’re open the business the shop will also feature work from local artists on its walls.
“I’m trying to keep with the vibe of how it used to look because it’s a very old landmark building,” Speer said. “All the materials we used in the store are old and repurposed too.”
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