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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Sarkis Cafe, Famed Evanston Diner, Coming To Avondale

The owner of the longtime Evanston staple is aiming to open its first Chicago location in mid-December for pickup and delivery only.

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AVONDALE — A diner folks on the North Shore have been raving about for decades is coming to the Northwest Side.

The owner of famed Evanston greasy spoon Sarkis Cafe is opening a second location in Avondale at 3517 N. Spaulding Ave. The new spot, the first Sarkis in the city, will only offer pickup and delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner Marla Cramin is aiming for a Dec. 15 opening. All of the menu items Sarkis is known for will be available to city customers, she said. Folks will also be able to come in and place to-go orders.

Cramin said opening in the city is the “natural next step” for Sarkis because many of their young customers graduated from high school and moved to the city. Another reason she took the plunge now is more people are working from home because of the pandemic. Sarkis, she said, provides the affordable “comfort food” many crave for lunch. At the original Sarkis, pickups and deliveries are way up.

“I’ve been promising folks for a long time and now is just the right time,” Cramin said.

“It seems odd, I understand, because the restaurant business isn’t doing great in general but the fact that my price point is so low and people love it so much — it’s not like a decadent splurge money-wise,” she said. “You get your fix and you’re not ruining your budget. I think that’s where a lot of other restaurants aren’t doing nearly as well because their price points are higher.”

The Spaulding Avenue address is part of a strip mall bordering Avondale and Irving Park and was once home to Eagle Insurance. The shared kitchen does not allow for dine-in service, but Cramin said she hopes to open a dine-in location in the city once the pandemic has subsided.

Sarkis Cafe has been an Evanston mainstay since 1965, its popularity fueled by the larger-than-life personality of owner Sarkis Tashjian, who worked the grill — and the crowd — inside the cramped diner.

Sarkis Tashjian

Everyone was “my friend” or “buddy” when they walked in. For regulars, Tashjian would come from behind the grill to greet them with a kiss. Many sought photos, which Tashjian plastered around the diner, his bushy mustache and smile featured in each one.

Tashjian, the son of Armenian Genocide survivors, developed a devout following in his 35 years at the helm. President Jimmy Carter and Harold Ramis were among the celebrities stopping by. Students coming home from college would always return to check in.

They came for his unique take on diner food like the Disaster Sandwich, the Loretta Sandwich and the “World’s Best Omelette” with house-made Armenian sausage. Mounds of hash browns filled the grill as Tashjian cracked eggs and fired hook shots with the shells into the garbage.

Tashjian sold the diner to Cramin’s family in 2000 and retired. He died of heart trouble in 2018 at age 86, according to the Sun-Times, but is remembered fondly for treating all of his customers like family, and for building a restaurant that has become an Evanston institution.

When Cramin and her family took over the restaurant, they kept Tashjian’s menu.

Cramin said expanding to the city wasn’t on Tashjian’s radar but she’s confident he would consider it a “good move for Sarkis.” She said she’s also thinking of her late husband as she opens the second location. He was the one who bought the restaurant from Tashjian.

“He would be incredibly proud that I would continue his legacy in this way,” she said.

The Avondale diner will be the first city location for Sarkis Cafe — although another Chicago diner created some confusion over the past decade.

In 2012, Cramin and her family filed a lawsuit against Sarks in the Park in Lincoln Park, demanding the city eatery drop the Sark name and take signature items, such as its signature Loretta sandwich, off the menu. Sarks in the Park closed in 2016. The owner said the lawsuit “had nothing to do with the closure.”

Credit: Sarkis Cafe/Facebook
Credit: Sarkis Cafe
Credit: Sarkis Cafe/Facebook
Credit: Facebook/Sarkis Cafe

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