HUMBOLDT PARK — Café Marie-Jeanne, a popular European-style café and restaurant in Humboldt Park, is closing for good this month, becoming the latest independent restaurant to do so amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This upcoming weekend will be the last weekend of service for the café at 1001 N. California Ave. Husband-and-wife owners Mike Simmons and Valerie Szafranski are planning to close the restaurant Monday.
“The string has run out for CMJ. We hung in as long as we could and it’s time to let go,” they said in an Instagram post Thursday.
“Everything must end. WE WILL MISS YOU ALL! I can’t express fully how much of an impact this restaurant has had on my life. But I can say that after spending the last five years with our staff and guests, I’ve grown in all of the best ways. Thanks to all who made space for us, trusted us spent time with us, worked with us, supported us, and made us what we are. We love you. So much.”
The post encouraged customers to come in and grab “one last cheeseburger” and see what they have on special this weekend before the closure. The owners will also sell discounted bottles of wine.
“We will be here and ready to sell you just about anything,” the post reads.
The closure will mark the end of Café Marie-Jeanne’s five-year run at the corner of California and Augusta avenues.
In a short period, the café became a go-to spot in Humboldt Park and was frequently packed. The restaurant also made a name for itself in the foodie world, earning rave reviews from food critics.
The owners modeled the restaurant after all-day European-style cafés found in Paris and Montreal with fresh-baked pastries, gourmet sandwiches, charcuterie plates and a range of specials for dinner, from oysters to dry-aged beef.
Reached by phone Friday, Simmons said they made the difficult decision to close the restaurant after realizing they were “never going to do the kind of business” that would allow them to stay open in this new pandemic world.
“We went from a bustling, 400-person brunch every weekend all day situation to a pretty limited takeout menu,” Simmons said. “We were paying rent for this big space that we can’t fill like we used to fill.”
It’s a “shame,” he said, that restaurant owners are “stuck with this impossible decision” of having to risk their health and the health of their workers to “squeeze a nickel out.”
“It’s putting a lot of responsibility on people who are just trying to find a way to make it in this country, this market,” Simmons said.
But Simmons said they’re closing with their heads held high, grateful for all of the support they’ve received over the last five years.
“It feels for us to know that we can walk away having left a good mark and a good memory on Chicago’s dining scene and also not have to end up in massive, crushing debt,” he said.
He said they have no plans to open another restaurant down the line, but if they were to, they wouldn’t be able to recreate the magic of Café Marie-Jeanne, which was “a beautiful thing while it was happening.”
While on the phone with a Block Club reporter, Simmons pulled up to the restaurant to find at least 25 people in line waiting to place their final orders, and to say goodbye to the neighborhood staple.
“It’s tugging at the heart strings a little bit,” he said. “It’s great to see a big line out the door. We can be here all weekend hanging out and cooking and doing that thing one last time.”
Café Marie-Jeanne is the third neighborhood favorite to close at the once-lively corner of California and Augusta avenues in recent months. Beloved bar The California Clipper and coffee shop C.C. Ferns closed this summer. Owner Brendan Sodikoff blamed the pandemic. The bar’s landlord told Block Club he tried to keep the bar open, but Sodikoff wanted out.
Asked about what he makes of all the changes, Simmons said, “Humboldt Park existed a long time before we were there and it will continue to exist for a long time after us.”
“That’s good. I’m just glad I got to play a part in it,” he said.
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