ROGERS PARK — The new owners of a beloved Rogers Park cafe hope the third time’s a charm.
Annie Cathcart and Carrie Flynn — two veterans of the restaurant industry — took over Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis Ave., earlier this year. The new ownership marks the third iteration of the neighborhood favorite, which has had quite the history in its Jarvis Square corner storefront.
It first opened in 2006 under Dan Sullivan, whose family has owned the building for 105 years.
Sullivan is a landlord first and a restaurant operator second, a distinction he learned through managing the cafe. Owning the Jarvis Square building that is now the focal point of the local business corridor, Sullivan said he thought a neighborhood cafe would help anchor his property.
But Charmers Cafe closed in 2013, with Sullivan telling DNAinfo he’s “not really a restaurant guy.”
Sandra Carter, co-owner of Jarvis Square business Taste Food & Wine, took over the spot and opened Towbar. That concept didn’t take off, and so in 2015 an Evanston shop owner moved in and opened Coffee Speed Shop.
That, too, didn’t last long. After a few months of Coffee Speed Shop, Carter and her business partners regained control of the cafe and reverted it back to Towbar in late 2015. But just weeks later, Towbar would close for good due to “unforeseen circumstances,” the owners said.
In early 2016, Sullivan stepped in and re-opened Charmers Cafe.
“When [Towbar] ended, I needed something” for the corner storefront, Sullivan said. “We still had the Charmers sign. There was a long memory that neighborhood people have for Charmers.”
The reopened cafe provided some stability for the Jarvis Square building Sullivan owns, but he knew the business would be better off in someone else’s hands. That’s where Cathcart and Flynn came in.
“We stumbled upon this and it was too good to be true,” Cathcart said. “We love the history of this place. There have been many iterations, but people really love this place. We hope we can give them some consistency.”
Cathcart and Flynn worked together at Fireside Restaurant & Lounge in Edgewater. Cathcart was the events coordinator at the restaurant, and Flynn has a background in gardening and landscaping. The two left Fireside to open their own business, thinking at first they might run an events space.
But when Cathcart and Flynn learned that Charmers Cafe was for sale, they jumped at the chance to own a neighborhood institution in need of a kick-start.
“We’ve been in the nightlife industry for a long time,” Flynn said. “We know hospitality, and we know how to make people happy. We want to bring that to a daytime business.”
The Charmers Cafe name and logo are the same, though a new logo may be introduced. The business’ setting and menu, however, have changed.
For one, the cafe seating area has been lushly landscaped and the iron fence painted gold. The inside of the restaurant is empty and not actually open to customers. That’s because the new owners built a walk-up ordering window on the Greenview Avenue side of the business.
Charmers now serves Homer’s Ice Cream, a beloved Wilmette-based business known for its decadent flavors. Cathcart and Flynn also plan to add a grab-and-go section to their business, seeking to capitalize on their proximity to the Jarvis Red Line stop.
Also for sale are potted plants, curated by Flynn. Bouqets of flowers and gift items could be added to the grab-and-go section, she said.
“We want to see what the neighborhood needs and give it to them,” Flynn said.
Cathcart and Flynn took over in February and slowly made it their own. The city’s stay at home order gave them more time to implement their vision.
Despite having to close during the city’s quarantine, the business has adapted and seen Rogers Park neighbors rally around it.
Sullivan, for one, said he could not be happier to see the business flourishing under its new owners.
“It’s been beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “They’re so smart, hard working and creative. And they love what they do. It’s way better for Charmers than when I was running it.”
Sullivan’s son and daughter, Denis and Shannon, work at the cafe. Charmers is the neighborhood hangout he’s always envisioned, Sullivan said.
The turnaround at Charmers Cafe, with its large outdoor seating on a quiet neighborhood corner, could be a positive sign for Jarvis Square’s future, he said.
“You start to get a feel of what Jarvis Square can be,” Sullivan said.
Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis Ave., is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
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