ROGERS PARK — The Loyola Beach House is back open with a new name — Ropa Cabana — after getting renovated by a Rogers Park couple.
Heather Miller and Tobias Bechtloff are serving lattes, shaved ice, hot dogs and more at the spot, 1230 W. Greenleaf Ave., which had a soft opening July 4. Its name combines a classic Barry Manilow song with the neighborhood’s name.
Miller, who works in graphic design, said she’s lived in Rogers Park since 2005 and used to run past the beach house and think, “Wow, this could really be something.”
Only when her now-husband Bechtloff, a freelance filmmaker and gaffer from Germany, echoed a similar sentiment did Miller get the motivation to figure out how they could transform the beach house.
Miller and Bechtloff applied to rent the spot from the Park District in December 2019 — but after months of silence, they learned their application had been lost and they would have to apply again the following year, they said.
They tried again this January — this time, with success.
Once the contract was signed at the end of May, they began “around-the-clock” work to get the place running as soon as possible. It was a nearly six-week period Miller described as intensely stressful.
Neither Miller nor Bechtloff have any experience as concessionaires, but they lucked out with help from friends who loaned tools for the renovation, assisted with the exterior tile work and participated in a “painting party” for the inside and outside of the hut.
“We have fantastic friends from the neighborhood, and without them, it would’ve been impossible,” Miller said.
Bechtloff and Miller said they also owe a tremendous amount of thanks to strangers from the neighborhood who offered their assistance as they passed by.
“There were neighbors showing up and asking if they could help for free or just for a hot dog,” Bechtloff said. “Where else in the world does that exist? I’m still flabbergasted.”
Neighbors have responded in an overwhelmingly positive way — and the couple already has regulars, they said.
A self-described foodie who loves to cook, Bechtloff said one of the most enjoyable parts of planning the cafe was creating its menu. One of his signature creations is what he named the Sleepy Dog: a breakfast hot dog.
The Sleepy Dog is breakfast sausage links tucked into a Bennison’s Bakery sweet-bread bun and topped with scrambled eggs, jalapenos, onions, cheese and tomatoes. It’s served with cream cheese and salsa.
“I thought, ‘A hot dog is usually only for midday or evening — why don’t we create something for the morning?’” Bechtloff said.
Miller said they’re trying to nail down a consistent menu for customers, but between supply chain disruptions affecting food and beverage distribution and Bechtloff’s proclivity for whipping up spontaneous dishes, the best way to know what the Cabana has on any given day is to pop on over.
Customers can also count on vegetarian and vegan substitutes for anything on their menu, said Bechtloff, a vegetarian.
The typical season for the Park District’s beach houses are Memorial Day to Labor Day, but since Ropa opened later in the summer, Miller is optimistic they’ll be able to stay open through the end of October.
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